“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,” Justus Rich says about his family’s twenty year wait for dad to be freed from incarceration.
Last week the Independent Film Project announced its 2020 Gotham Nominations, the first institution that starts the celebration of the best movies of the year. They singled out “Time” directed by Garrett Bradley as one of the best documentaries. Her film recently started showing on Amazon Prime – and earlier this year, when it premiered at Sundance, Bradley became the first Black woman to win their US Documentary Directing Award.
It is definitely an unequaled piece of filmmaking. Originally director Bradley intended her film to be a short focusing on Sibil Rich who’d been raising her six children while her husband Robert served a sixty-year prison sentence at Louisiana State Penitentiary. When shooting was done, Rich handed her a bag of mini-DV tapes which had 100 hours of home movies that kept a record of the two decades of yearning. Sibil would capture for her husband’s sake her children’s daily routines, the first day at kindergarten, birthdays, everyday achievements. She would also tape herself telling Robert what it was like not to be without him. “My passenger seat is empty,” she says, showing the void next to her while driving to work.
Bradley’s task was to figure out how to weave this extraordinary footage with the material that she’d so carefully captured and blending the two aesthetics into cohesion. What you get is one of the most intimate viewing experiences. The director counts on zooms throughout her scenes to mimic the way our brains focus on what we’re interested in. Her camera takes in the environment surrounding her subject and then she moves slowly in – creating a tightly framed composition. In those shots she creates a similar precision and emotionality that syncs with Sibil’s personal recordings. Bradley’s keeps both worlds in black and white – one grainy like memory – the other smooth and crisp like the truth. The voyeuristic becomes familiar. We become invested in this family and their lives and feel in close proximity to them. It is all accompanied with a terrific piano score that reminded me of silent movies. “A lot of things have changed since the beginning of this tape,” says Sibil in one of her early recordings directed towards her husband.
When the film starts we get a montage of all the found footage – and we get a startling sense of time passing as we watch the kids grow, – the precious moments that husband Rob has missed – then it abruptly cuts to a close up of Fox Rich twenty years later. The cherubic face of her youth is now framed by grey hairs. “Time is when you look at pictures from when your babies were small, and then you look at them, and you see that they have mustaches and beards, and that the biggest hope that you had was that before they turned into men, they would have a chance to be with their father.”
We find out that Sibil and Robert committed a robbery because their business venture was flailing. “Desperate people do desperate things,” she observes. She accepted a plea bargain and served three years. Ever since she’s been trying to get his sentence reduced and get him out. She has become a passionate activist. The doc speaks about issues of mass incarceration and race in America by zeroing in on the personal loss of this particular family. It doesn’t ever become didactic or sententious. “It’s almost like slavery time,” says the grandmother. “The white man keeps you there until he figures it’s time for you to get out. And that’s what this situation is. It’s a personal vendetta.”
There are some scenes that have a beauty and a power like nothing I’ve seen this year. There’s a particular moment I will not soon forget. In a close-up, we witness Fox make a phone call to the judge to find out about a ruling. She’s put on hold and we wait with her for an answer. We hear the sounds of the street outside – the sounds of freedom as she waits. “Do you want to continue to hold?” a voice beckons. And we wait.
This is quite a love story. Sibil Verdette Fox – “Fox Rich” – is a force of nature. She’s determined, funny, and openhearted. Nothing will stop her until she’s able to get her husband reunited with his children.
Sibil: “While incarcerated my prayer was that upon my release from prison, God would allow me to use my voice for the voiceless. Because what I clearly understood was that our prison system is nothing more than slavery. And I see myself as an abolitionist. “
Available to stream on Amazon Prime Video
Directed by Garrett Bradley
Featuring Rob Rich II, Fox Rich, Freedom Rich, Justus Rich, Laurence M. Rich, Mahlik Rich, Remington Rich and Rob G. Rich
Director Garrett Bradley on Bringing “Time” to the Screen
“I met Fox in the process of making another film. I had made a short film called “Alone,” which was a 13 minute op-doc with the New York Times. I always think it’s (NY Times Op-Docs) a choice for the young people or aspiring filmmakers who are reading this. Anybody can go to the New York Times Op-Doc page and submit and idea. I didn’t know anybody at the New York Times and a friend of mine, a partner, had been recently arrested and awaited trial for about a year and a half in a private prison in Northern Louisiana. And I really witnessed her become a single mother overnight. I also saw that she felt very isolated in terms of who she could talk to about how to move forward with her life. So I really thought about this film first, as being for the facilitation of conversations between women of different generations who could offer information to one another and be a source of support to one another. Even though that film took a slightly different direction, I contacted an organization called FLIC, (Friends and Families of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children) and Gina Womack who’s the Co-Founder and Director of that organization picked up. She said “the first person you have to speak with is Fox Rich.” A sliver of those conversations is still in the film, between her and Fox. Because she’s in ALONE briefly and makes a vivid connection between slavery and the prison industrial complex. I got to know her (Fox) in the process and I got to know her story. I thought it would be really important to try and think about how I could extend, in filmmaking, the conversation around incarceration from a place that was inherently from a black feminist point of view, from a familial point of view, (and) from a point of view that was about the effects of the facts.” (blackfilm.com)
Bradley on the Making of “Time”
“I thought it was really important to find ways to extend the conversation around incarceration in a way that was familial and emotional and inherently feminist and Black and Southern,” Bradley said during a Q&A as part of the International Documentary Association screening series. “It was a hundred hours of footage,” the director recalled. For the first time in her career, Bradley decided it was necessary to enlist an editor to help her with the film. That’s how seasoned editor Gabe Rhodes (“Matangi/Maya/M.I.A”) came on board. For Bradley, the deeply personal material Rich provided was a gift that would ensure she could transmit aspects of her personality and that of her family that otherwise would have been absent from the project. Although Rich’s tapes were in color, Bradley went back and forth on the best visual approach for the film. “I ultimately felt like going to black-and-white really connected conceptually with this idea of time,” she explained. The formal decision also helped the textures of the archive material blend with the present-day footage in a uniform manner. “The black-and-white kind of helped it to feel more like a river and less of a collage,” she added.
Bradley’s approach to storytelling, one that’s closer to lyrical poetry than straightforward narrative construction, also relates to the larger themes she grapples with in “Time.” “When you think about incarceration and when you think about the effects of a 60-year sentence, for instance, there’s an opportunity to, in the context of filmmaking, try to evoke a feeling that is just as powerful as a ‘fact,’” she explained. “In my mind, images and emotion and the way in which images make us feel becomes fact, and they stay with us and they live in us just as powerfully as letters and numbers do to a certain extent.” In turn, one of the most strenuous parts of the editorial process for Bradley was deciding how to handle the details behind Rich and her husband Rob’s case. It was a question of to what extent they would delve into whys and how to balance that with the consequences of the events. And an important thing to remember, Bradley noted, is that Louisiana, where the incident that sent them both to prison, incarcerates people at a higher rate than the rest of the world. “I would like to answer it in two ways. One is to say that the film is functioning off of the premise that it is just as much about the effects of incarceration as it is about the facts, and what actually happened and what caused these things, wanting people to understand what this means for family members and what it means for love and for Black unity. The other way of answering it is to say that racism is a really hard thing to explain in legal terms. In fact, I don’t think you can legally prove racism.” (indiewire.com)
Director Garrett Bradley on “Time”
“There’s always been a time for this film. We’ve never experienced a moment in American history where it hasn’t been relevant, where there hasn’t been a call for justice,” Bradley says. “I say that to be optimistic about the future. We are at a major turning point of real radical change and being able to see allyship for the movement in a way that we’ve never seen it before.” Bradley credits her honor at Sundance to the work of women of color filmmakers before her, and she hopes it is an indicator of the industry moving forward. Next, she’s been tapped to direct a Netflix docuseries about tennis champ Naomi Osaka, and she has a solo exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art debuting next month featuring her film America. When speaking about her upcoming projects, Bradley’s thoughts are often punctuated by her hope for the future during an uncertain time. It’s a continual element running through “Time,” something she hopes viewers can connect with. “I think hope can seem really general, but I can’t emphasize enough that there are examples in the film of what resistance can look like, which anybody can achieve—and that is to hold onto your individuality, to hold onto each other as a family and to believe that love is just as powerful as anything else.” (time.com)
About Director Garrett Bradley
Garrett Bradley (b. NYC, 1986) works across narrative, documentary, and experimental modes of filmmaking to address themes such as race, class, familial relationships, social justice, southern culture, and the history of film in the United States. Bradley has received numerous prizes which include the 2019 Prix de Rome, and the 2017 Sundance Jury Prize for the short film “Alone,” which was released by The New York Times OpDocs And became an Oscar Contender for short nonfiction filmmaking, included in Academy Shortlist. Bradleys work can be seen across a variety of spaces including her Second Unit Directing work on Ava DuVernays “When They See Us” and the 2019 Whitney Biennial. In December of this 2019, Bradley’s first solo exhibition opened at The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH), curated by Rebecca Matalon. In January of 2020, Bradley became the first Black American woman to receive Best Director at the 2020 Sundance Film festival for her first feature length documentary, “Time.” “Projects: Garrett Bradley,” will be the artist and filmmakers fist New York solo exhibition scheduled for fall of 2020 and is presented as part of a multiyear partnership between The Museum of Modern Art and the Studio Museum in Harlem and will feature a multichannel video installation of “America” (2019). This show is organized by Thelma Golden, Director and Chief Curator, the Studio Museum in Harlem, with Legacy Russell, Associate Curator, the Studio Museum in Harlem. (garrettabradley.com)