London Film Festival
With Time, documentarian Garrett Bradley focuses on a stretch of twenty years in the lives of one family impacted by the American carceral system. Her subject is Fox Rich, the wife of a man facing sixty years in prison for armed robbery. Over the course of the twenty years covered by the documentary, she fights for his release and to right the injustice wrought by the ‘justice’ system. “I am an abolitionist,” she says, comparing incarceration to slavery.
We open on Fox talking to her own camera, shortly after being released from prison for her part in the robbery. She is heavily pregnant with twins – babies who she knows will grow up without the presence of their father in the home.
This is not the case of the US penal system wrongfully imprisoning an innocent Black man; it is a case of the US penal system wrongfully imprisoning a Black man who committed a crime. It can be reassuring to focus on the cut-and-dry wrongness of people who are incarcerated for crimes they didn’t commit, but to do so is to ignore the larger ramifications of the prison-industrial complex.
Documentaries like Ava DuVernay’s 13th have very successfully invoked outrage at injustice through the use of expert talking heads and a few case studies, but Time does away with the framework, emphasizing one family’s humanity above all else. It won’t win over the ‘facts don’t care about your feelings’ crowd, but it does encourage its viewer to re-discover the value of empathy.
The combination of Fox’s home movies with Bradley’s professional filming is a smooth one, thanks to the wash of black and white over the entire film, and the gorgeous piano score. Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou’s music evokes the perfect atmosphere, naturally guiding the viewer along the film’s huge passage of time and striking the right tonal balance between the reality of the subjects’ lives and the distance between them and the viewer. Bradley chooses not to depict the ‘time’ linearly, and in doing so ends up with a film that – despite clocking in at only eighty-one minutes in runtime – truly evokes the swath of life it is trying to depict. The twins Fox was pregnant with during the film’s opening, Freedom and Justus, are the most direct symbols of the cost of Rob Rich’s incarceration: they grow into adulthood as we watch, becoming remarkable men in their own right.
In every moment she is onscreen, Fox Rich inspires. We watch as she raises her six children, speaks persuasively as a reform activist, waits stoically while on hold to lawyers and various other bureaucrats, expresses her anger, shows compassion, and fights without end in sight to get her husband back. Her commitment to justice is far beyond anything one could find entrenched in the current American justice system.
Time is a powerful rumination on the impact of incarceration on a family. It is a cry for reform, more than worth listening to.
- Ellie Burridge