“Time” – “If you fall, I will catch you. I will be waiting, time after time.” – Cyndi Lauper, “Time After Time”
Sibil Fox Richardson (a.k.a. Fox Rich) has been waiting for her husband’s return for just over 20 years. Fox and her high school sweetheart Rob are not legally separated but remain physically apart.
The couple is legally separated but in an altogether different way. You see, in 1999, a Louisiana court sentenced Rob to 60 years in prison for armed robbery, and Fox was not an unknowing party. The Louisiana State Penitentiary does tender Fox a couple visits a month, but can a marriage survive on – what equates to – two days of face-to-face connection per year? Somehow, Fox holds her family – that includes six boys – together in the face of loneliness and regret, making two decades seem like a few centuries.
During a January 31, 2020 interview with “Film Comment”, director Garrett Bradley stated that she originally intended to make a documentary short about Fox and her story. On the last day of shooting, however, Bradley’s “worst nightmare and biggest dream came true.” Rich handed her a bag with “18 years of mini-DV tapes”, and after the director watched 100 hours of home movies, she decided to turn her film into a doc feature.
“Time” is a challenging watch. Garrett mingles Rich’s rich history over the past two decades with current footage throughout the 81-minute, non-linear runtime, so it’s sometimes difficult to find your footing.
The movie’s opening six minutes introduces Fox as a young mother with a dissolving safety net. Rob is in prison, and she is pregnant. Hope is scarce.
In the next scene, fast forward to the present, and Fox – born in 1971 – is a seasoned mom, wife, confident business professional, and public speaker, but Rob is still imprisoned. Their young boys have grown into responsible men, and “Time” organically swells into a plea against the justice system, one that administers lost years between a father and his family.
With approximately 2 million Americans circulating in the prison population, “Time” is one personal story of self-examination, anger, remorse, and devotion where one decision cost the Richardsons nearly everything. Indeed, plenty of documentaries and features chronicle the madness of an unjust justice system versus people of color, and while “The Central Park Five” (2012) and “Just Mercy” (2019) flash 10-story spotlights on black men wrongly accused of crimes, “Time” documents the pain and anxiety over the consequences of imprisonment.
The separation takes a toll. Through numerous cuts and edits (and accompanied by a soft piano), Bradley presents Rich to the audience. This legally-forsaken wife and mom absorbs her grief, channels it into positive messages for her sons, and tries to hang on to some semblance of normalcy. Instead of sitting down for straight-up interviews, Fox offers confessionals to her camera and Bradley’s. The director also seeds the screen with B-roll depicting everyday life, like the first day of school or mom-son teaching moments in the car. Through these avenues, Bradley’s handiwork feels like director Asif Kapadia’s (“Senna” (2010), “Amy” (2015)) docs. Fox’s sons – such as Remington and Justus – also provide needed context for growing up in a split household, and her mother offers frank talk in possibly the only formal interview.
In some ways, “Time” is a remarkable find, but it’s also an unconventional, artistic, and sometimes disjointed one. It’s a film that could use more traditional documentary threads to stitch together Rich’s and Bradley’s work, but their voices resonate and sometimes cinematically harmonize. At one point, Bradley captures a pile driver at a nearby construction site, as it repeatedly pounds on the beginnings of a new building. Like clockwork, it utters constant, ominous thuds. At another place in the film, Rich addresses a live audience by saying, “It’s been 20 years, y’all.”
These moments feel linked.
⭐⭐ 1/2 out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Image and Trailer credits: Amazon Prime Video