NYFF 2020

Time review – two decades of love intercut by an unjust America

This deeply moving documentary maps the failings of the prison-industrial complex through one woman’s journey to reunite with her husband

How are you supposed to spend time, appreciate it, if it feels like the world is standing still? There is a difference between living and merely existing – waiting for the moment when it feels like you will be able to enjoy the passing of time again.

For over 20 years, Sibil Fox Richardson had to wait, but also live and fight without pause, as her husband Rob served a 60-year prison sentence for robbing a bank. While Richardson (also known as Fox Rich) served three and a half years for her part in the crime, Rob was given a very different sentence. And so, time moves differently for them.

Garrett Bradley’s intimate and affecting documentary Time maps Rich’s journey as she tirelessly campaigns for the love of her life to be given his freedom back. The footage alternates between galvanising images of Rich explaining why the US prison system needs to change, and time capsule recordings of Rich scrapbooking her own love story. Time may be passing slowly, but her loyalty to her husband never falters.

It’s an enormous achievement to crystallise two decades of both fighting and loving in 81 minutes, as Bradley never takes Rich’s voice away to patronise or preach to the viewer about what we should care about here. Injustice has never been clearer.

The film also introduces us to Rich’s twin sons, Justice and Freedom – she was three months pregnant when Rob was incarcerated. It’s a devastating, humbling experience to watch a mother raise her sons with such valiance, such transparency while shouldering such a disheartening absence for so long.

But Bradley’s skill lies in creating impossible empathy for Rich and her family without bending this story into anything that could be considered melodramatic or manipulative. The precision with which we understand Rich’s ambition, her truth, the love that runs so deep and so true in her family, is often overwhelming.

Time is a story of one family, of the momentous sacrifice and resilience that forces two boys to grow up without their father, a woman to dedicate her life to being graced a reunion with the love of her life. It never claims to speak to every injustice, the entirety of the prison-industrial complex and all its flaws. And yet it seems a tall feat to finish watching Time and not feel both heartbreak and outrage at the state of infrastructures promising “justice.” Rich and Rob may have found their much-deserved, long-awaited redemption – but the world has so much further to go.

Time was screened as part of the New York Film Festival 2020.

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