By Sammie Purcell
BU News Service
There’s a moment in Garrett Bradley’s new documentary “Time” where Sibil Fox Richardson says: “My story is the story of over two million people in the United States of America who are falling prey to the incarceration of poor people and people of color.”
This is true. The prison industrial system affects millions across the United States in unspeakable ways. But the story of Sibil Fox Richardson – a woman fighting for the release of her husband Robert, who was sentenced to 60 years in prison without parole for armed robbery – while shared by many, feels uniquely owned by Sibil in this exquisite film. Filled with footage from her own archive, the film opens the door for audiences to step into Sibil’s life and live it with her, if only for a moment.
By interspersing her own filmmaking with Sibil’s home videos, Bradley creates an achingly intimate portrait of a grieving family, blurring the lines between fiction, documentary and real life. The loss of a father and a husband is not a statistic here. It’s a reality the Richardsons – and by extension the audience – are faced with every time they watch a family video and Robert is glaringly absent.
A lesser film may have tried to draw an obvious connection to the big picture plight of families like the Richardsons all across the country, but Bradley takes care to let the audience see them as more than just symbolic of the horrors of the prison system. She forces the audience to look closely at this family to see their strengths, flaws, exhaustion, and hope. The audience feels connected to the Richardsons from the moment the film begins, with grainy black-and-white footage of a younger, pregnant Sibil, proudly showing off her stomach but longing for her husband.
The cuts back and forth between home videos and the present don’t feel like flashbacks intended to give you more information, but instead, serve to provide an exceedingly close look into the lives of Sibil and her family. It feels meandering, but to a point – the story is meant to feel lived in, giving the audience the chance to experience what the Richardsons experience in an unvarnished capacity.
The present-day camerawork is just as effective as Sibil’s, capturing how this loss acutely affects the family in their everyday lives. A good chunk of the film is spent watching Sibil on the phone with different judges and lawyers as she fights for her husband’s release – not outwardly cinematic, but shot with an unflinching need to show the hard truth in these moments.
Sibil’s never-failing politeness and measured tone in the face of indifference from those on the other line directly contrast what we see as the camera lingers on her face, never straying from the sadness and anger etched across her brow. The camera does not shy away from her in these moments or any other film moment. By forcing the audience to be up close and personal with Sibil, Bradley opens up a direct pathway for empathy. This does far more for the film than trying to find a bigger picture connection could. The audience is right there with Sibil in the most heartbreaking, challenging, hopeful, and right up at the end, intimate experiences of her life, living them as their own.
“Time” will be available on Amazon Prime on Oct. 16.