‘Time’ is a refreshingly human take on incarceration

Eva Moschitto, Staff Writer

Garrett Bradley was recently named Best Director at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival — making her the first Black woman to win the award — for her expansive documentary “Time,” Bradley’s first feature-length film.

“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 that she recorded throughout Robert’s incarceration.

“Receiving these surprise recordings was both a dream and a nightmare,” Bradley told Roger Durling of 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 from her free-spirited youth to becoming a grounding family matriarch during the two decades she spent combating racism and bureaucracy while Robert was in prison.

Bradley seamlessly blends the home-tapes with her own film in delicate black-and-white, making “Time” both 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, and in doing so gives a human face to 2.3 million incarcerated Americans and their families.

While “Time” doesn’t ignore its political nature, it remains thematically centered on love. This is evident in the 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.

Fox hadn’t watched the tapes since she recorded them in the ‘90s and Rob had never seen the tapes, either. However, the archive Fox faithfully filmed bears witness to the Richardson family’s struggle and survival.

“Success is the best revenge, success is the best revenge,” Fox repeats in the film 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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