Time is an intimate and moving documentary that follows one woman’s determination to raise her six sons and free her husband from the US industrial-prison system.
Director Garrett Bradley’s third film (Alone, America), Time secured Bradley the Best Director Award in the US Documentary Competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.
Time is the story of Fox Rich – matriarch, entrepreneur, abolitionist – who fights to have her husband Rob G. Rich released from the Louisiana State Penitentiary. The film also offers an insight into the radical love and resilience employed by Rich and her sons as they strive to live, grow and thrive amid familial incarceration.
In 1999, Fox and Rob Rich – then a young couple with children and under financial pressure – committed a bank robbery. Fox, who was the getaway driver, was sentenced to three years, while Rob was sentenced to 60 years without parole – an uncharacteristically strict punishment for a robbery.
Fox doesn’t shy away from saying that she and her husband are guilty. In fact, she uses her experience of incarceration to speak to others, encouraging them to take a different path. She is our avatar through the arduous, grinding (and if one didn’t have Fox’s resilience) defeating process of fighting against incarceration.
We witness the injustice of Rob’s preposterously long sentence, the racism she and Rob experience when at the courthouse, the demeaning behaviour they are subjected to in prison, and the refusal of a judiciary to enact change because, in their words, ‘if we open one case, then all of them are gonna want to be reopened’.
By not focusing on the crime, Bradley shifts the rhetoric, and our attention, to prison abolition – from criminalisation to incarceration, and its devastating impact on families. It makes one consider the US industrial-prison system as worthy of abolition for those who are guilty as much as for those who are innocent.
As Justus Richardson, Fox and Rob Rich’s son, says: “Time is what you make of it. Time is unbiased. Time is lost. Time flies. This situation has just been a long time. A really long time.”
Time is beautifully filmed. Shot in black and white, it weaves archive material filmed by Fox and present-day footage shot by Bradley with a thoughtful, jazz-inflected soundscape by Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou, Jamieson Shaw and Edwin Montgomery.
The black and white hue lends a heightened, epic beauty to the nonlinear narrative of the film, which spans 21 years, showing the transformation of Fox from a young mother to a businesswoman and abolitionist, and of her young boys into ‘Student of the Month’, championship debater, aspiring dentist and criminal justice student.
This tonal choice also eases the motion between past and present, knitting them together in such a way that one cannot help but reflect on the film’s title: time that is spent waiting, time that cannot be got back, time you wish you had and time you wished you could go back to. Time that keeps you hurting and time that keeps you praying, hoping and fighting for ‘the day’.
Love is a huge aspect of the film. The archival footage – video diaries Fox made for Rob while he was in prison – show intimate moments with Fox and her sons at home, in the car, at birthdays and school, and of Fox addressing the camera as she speaks to Rob. It shows the fierce love Fox has for her family, the love and tenderness they have for each other, despite everything.
This love is a necessary lens through which to view the struggle against unjust sentencing for black men in the US. The Rich’s love is a radical love that refuses to be bowed by the incarceration system’s attempt to break their family up, to diminish their ambitions and dreams, to let time take away their hope.
Time is an intimate, beautiful film on the long-term costs of incarceration, but also the courage and resilience of the human spirit, and presents an outstanding new voice in nonfiction filmmaking.