Biweekly Binge: Time- A biting commentary of the American justice system
A fortnightly column on what’s good in the vast ocean of content in the streaming platforms around you, and this week, it's Garrett Bradley's Time
"It's almost like slavery time", says Fox Rich aka Sibil Fox Richardson in Garrett Bradley's Time, the Sundance winner of US Documentary Directing award, now streaming on Amazon Prime. "The white man keeps you there till he figures out your time is up". Time is a documentary on Fox Rich's family and her struggle to secure the release of her incarcerated husband, who was sentenced to 60 years in prison without parole or suspension of sentence and without benefits, for an attempted bank robbery in 1999. Over time, Fox becomes a figure fighting illegal incarceration of poor people and people of colour in America. True to its title, Time plays fast and loose with the concept of time as it switches between Bradley's documentary and home videos of Fox's family of five kids. The home video footage that spans across nineteen years was handed to Bradley after she had finished filming her documentary, which was initially planned as a short. And that forced Bradley into reinventing reportage design that would work for Time, combining her film with Fox's home videos, resulting in breathtaking formal precision, making it a one-of-a-kind documentary where moments pass like years and years pass like moments. Time is in black and white and is shot and edited in a way that the home videos and Bradley's film don't create a dissonance but add incredible amount of value to each other, despite being years apart.
What we get is a documentary combining Asif Kapadia-like piecing together of personal history and Bradley's lens on Fox's latter day efforts and frustration with courts and judges, not to mention Fox's own journey as a woman who is deeply aware that life goes on, with her focus on her career and her five children's education. We switch back and forth—Fox getting ready for work or getting ready to meet her husband in prison. We get several shots of her conversation with the judge's office where she gets the same answer every time. Bradley also shoots this in a way that Fox doesn't betray any scepticism towards these difficult calls; she remains as hopeful as she was ten years ago. She talks about how every year the family feels like this will be the New Year’s Eve they will have their father home. While in prison, she has her twins, and names them Justus and Freedom, an eternal memory of the circumstances in which they stepped into this world and what they, as a family, must fight to obtain in America, against Louisiana's harsh prison and justice system. A snatch of a conversation is captured about the prison budget cuts that could help their goal, but we learn how that never happens, doesn't happen after ravaging floods or hurricane Katrina but cuts repeatedly occur with education and healthcare.
From that conversation Bradley transitions to a different time, showing a washing machine spinning as the film moves to Freedom talking about his graduation from high school. He mentions how children of incarcerated parents seldom graduate high school which he has done two years early and how much that means to him and others like him. He talks about his chosen major—political science—because if one must transform the criminal justice system into a more forgiving system then one must understand how it operates. Bradley's achievement is making time feel at once like a constant and also an ever moving object in her documentary where Fox Rich, as iconic a role model as any, transforms her family into a successful, well-educated group of individuals, who begin to think and speak for the larger good of black American lives. Only the aspect ratio might give it away but the Fox Rich we see on home video, giving talks to her community is no different from the older Fox Rich that Bradley has shot, giving similar talks about America's justice system. While her sons grow up to be adults and high schoolers matured and self-aware beyond their age, Fox is always the same woman, ready for this battle, always knowing in her bones that the system in the country is rotten and her fight will be a long and hard one. It's not a coincidence that she happened to have nineteen years of home video to hand to Garrett Bradley. The promising young filmmaker blends them into her spectacular documentation of another facet of black life in America that exists to this day.