A few days before Garrett Bradley won the documentary directing award at Sundance, Amy Taubin spoke with her for Film Comment.Time is an achronological portrait of Sibil Richardson, a writer, activist, and mother of six known to most as Fox Rich, as she fights for the release of her incarcerated husband. It’s “an intimate and epic film,” writes Taubin in the introduction to her interview, “where past and present flow together like memory, all time-bound up in a single purpose—to reunite a family so they can love one another in freedom.”
The roots of Time stretch back to Bradley’s first fiction feature, Below Dreams (2014). One of her actors, Desmond Watson, was arrested on a series of nonviolent charges, and while he was in prison, Bradley befriended his girlfriend, Aloné Watts. When Watson proposed, the two women decided to make a film about Aloné’s struggle with the idea of marrying a man behind bars, and Alone (2017) won Bradley her first award at Sundance. During the course of her research, Bradley was introduced to Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children—and to Fox Rich. “I see Alone and Time as sister films,” she tells Taubin.
In 1999, when Rich and her husband, Robert, were in their early twenties, they tried—and failed—to rob a bank. Fox was sentenced to thirteen years but struck a deal that had her out after three and a half. Robert’s lawyer advised against making a deal, and he was slapped with a sixty-year sentence with no shot at parole. Fox and Robert “have spent the past two decades attempting to make amends,” writes Sean Burns in his review of Time for WBUR. “Without any special pleading, the movie makes a strong case for America’s for-profit carceral system as the biggest impediment to their rehabilitation. But what’s special about the film is that it does so in the form of a poem instead of a position paper.”
Bradley had completed a cut of Time when she learned that Fox had been keeping a video diary all these years, and so, she and editor Gabriel Rhodes sapped Fox’s tapes of all color to match Bradley’s black-and-white footage and incorporated these home movies into the composition of Time. For the New Yorker’s Richard Brody, “the movie opens vast political vistas on the deep-rooted and unchallenged forms of white supremacy at work throughout American society (whether involving legal or economic inequality) and displays the enormous depths of emotional strength, the daily heroism, that endurance demands.”
Profiling Bradley for the New York Times Magazine,Ismail Muhammad suggests that “her films are occasions for a community’s vision to find expression. To the extent that her formally unruly films are documentaries at all, they document the social spaces in which Black thought takes shape. We’re in a moment when the predominant image of Black life, facilitated by the recordings of Black people’s deaths at the hands of police officers, threatens to become one of victimhood, martyrdom and repression—anything but the complicated and vibrant lives that we actually live in this nation. In turning its attention to Black women as they struggle, love and survive right now, Bradley’s Time pushes back, making the representations by which we ‘know’ Black life unfamiliar to us.”
Time sees a limited release in the U.S. starting tomorrow, when it also begins rolling out in the UK as part of the London Film Festival. Bradley is currently working with the Museum of Modern Art and the Studio Museum in Harlem on a presentation of her 2019 film America as a multichannel video installation that will be on view at MoMA from November 21 through March 21.
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