‘Time’ is a refreshingly human take on incarceration

Eva Moschitto, Staff Writer

Recently named “Best Director” at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival — making her the first Black woman to win the award — Garrett Bradley, expands documentary filmmaking with her first feature-length film, Time.

Time follows Sibil Fox Richardson, or Fox Rich, as she struggles to maintain her family’s unity while petitioning for her husband Robert’s release from prison.

While it began as a thirteen-minute op-doc, or short opinion documentary, for The New York Times, Time transformed into a ninety-minute film after Rich handed Bradley over one hundred hours of home-tapes she recorded throughout Robert’s incarceration

“Receiving these surprise recordings was both a dream and a nightmare,” Bradley told the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. In sorting through the tapes, Bradley selected recordings that portrayed her original intention: to “translate and distill what hope looked like, cinematically,” for the Richardson family

Although Bradley met Rich towards the end of Robert’s sentence, the tapes allowed her — and audiences — to trace Rich’s free-spirited youthfulness to the grounded family matriarch she became in over two decades of combating racism and bureaucracy.

Bradley seamlessly blends the home-tapes and her own film in delicate black-and-white, making Time a work of memory and a study of the present moment.

Through capturing one family’s day-to-day journey, Time adds nuance and depth to the conversation surrounding incarceration. While films like Ava DuVernay’s 13th shed light on the staggering inequality of the United States’ prison system, Time depicts the fallout of that system on one individual family, thereby taking a large step towards restoring the dignity of 2.3 million incarcerated Americans and their families.

While Time doesn’t ignore its political nature, it remains thematically centered on love, evident in its film poster: a photo of Fox and Rob, as the couple is popularly called, kissing in the car. Time was designed, Bradley explained, not as a defense of the couple’s innocence — their failed bank robbery resulted in both Fox and Robert’s incarceration — but as a cry for compassion and forgiveness.

Through intimate, understated cinematography, Time emphasizes the need for empathy and the power of love as a form of resistance.

While Fox never watched the tapes since recording them in the ‘90s and Rob never saw them over the course of two decades, the archive Fox faithfully filmed bears witness to the Richardson family’s struggle and resilience.

“Success is the best revenge, success is the best revenge,” Fox repeats, in frustrated response to apathetic employees at judicial offices. And successful Fox was. The story of Fox and Rob has circulated through Fox’s book, numerous talks, the couple’s YouTube channel, and, now, a documentary.

Through recounting the Richardson family’s story, Time validates their resilience, dedication, and humanity as well as that of all those who, in Bradley’s words, “[serve] time on the outside.”

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