We’ve gotten several documentaries as of late about innocent people who were wrongfully convicted. Time establishes upfront, however, that the central couple did commit a serious crime. Sibil Fox and Robert Richardson were high school sweethearts who attempted to provide for their family by robbing a bank. Fox and Rob were ultimately caught and charged for their crime. Taking a plea deal, Fox served three-and-a-half years. Given the nature of the crime, this seems like a reasonable amount of time. Fox learned from her mistakes, becoming an author, businesswoman, and activist. Rob wasn’t given the same chances as his wife since he was sentenced to sixty years.
Now more than ever, people are starting to recognize the giant holes in the so-called justice system and Rob is just one of the many examples. While robbing a bank isn’t something to be taken lightly, six decades is a steep price to pay. What makes the situation all the more tragic is that Fox was pregnant with twins when Rob was sentenced. Fox would go on to have six sons while their father fell victim to a system that forgot he existed. Fox didn’t forget, though. She spent decades trying to free her husband, emerging as a prominent abolitionist in the process.
Time was directed by Garrett Bradley, who served as a second unit director for Ava DuVernay on When They See Us. Like that miniseries, Time is another essential exploration of injustice in America. Bradley also directed a New York Times Op-Doc entitled Alone, which starred Fox. Alone was shortlisted for Best Documentary (Short Subject) consideration at the Academy Awards, although it ultimately didn’t receive a nomination. Time could be Bradley’s ticket to a Best Documentary Feature nomination, however.
Originally, Bradley intended Time to be another short subject. The film became a feature when Fox supplied her with a bag full of mini-DV tapes. Fox recorded around 100 hours of home movies, capturing just a fracture of the eighteen years that Rob missed with his family. This is where the true heart of the film lies, resulting in one of the most personal documentaries of recent memory. Bradley also follows Fox in modern day, chronicling her public speeches and ongoing battle to release Rob. It’s all tied together by beautifully bleak black-and-white cinematography.
The film is only one hour and twenty minutes, but it makes the audience feel the unforgivably long passage to time that Rob has spent separated from his family. It’s easy for most people to ignore the incarcerated, saying don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time. The crime doesn’t always match the time, though. At a certain point, we have to ask ourselves, “what’s the line between incarceration and slavery?” Ava DuVernay asked the same question in her shocking documentary 13th. While that film provides a deeper dive into this subject, Time may leave an even greater impact. Where 13th was like sitting through a gripping lecture, Time is like being invited into someone’s home and breaking bread. Fox and Rob shouldn’t be judged based on one mistake that they made decades ago. If you got to know them, you’d see that.
Time opens at Harkins Shea on October 8 and releases on Amazon Prime on October 16.