Film / TV

‘time’ is a doc on one of humanity’s worst crimes

February 5, 2020
70 Picks

Amongst an exciting lineup of movies shown at Sundance was the documentary Time, a story about the effects of the prison industrial complex system on the incarcerated and their loved ones. Based off my own opinion and rumbles overheard in the different Utah cinemas, this was the breakout film — the one whose name made its way to every corner of the festival. 

Time is a biographical story detailing the time and lives stolen by those who aren’t protected nor valued by the state. But what sets this documentary apart is its poetry. This is owed to its star, Sibil Fox who informs the documentary with her own immeasurable traits — always patient, always passionate, and never wavering.

In 1997, Fox and her husband Rob Richardson were young and in love. When the high school sweethearts were six months married, they made a decision that cost them 21 years of their family’s freedom. While Time does not glorify crime, it does challenge our broken system by using this case to emphasize the politics of whose time matters and whose doesn’t. In a post- screening Q&A, director Garrett Bradley explained that the decision to not go into the details of the robbery came from wanting to give a true, non-biased description on the way the system works and affects the people it locks up. Yes, the people who are targeted by this corrupt system participate in crimes but we must also understand that systemic biases corner them through a lack of options.

And so a world that sets a certain demographic up to fail waits until one makes a mistake, locks them up, and — aside from the select few that have the resources to buy their freedom back — forces them to spend their lives waiting for the slim opportunity of a second chance. Even grosser, when budget costs suggest these complexes let non-threatening incarcerated people free, they sooner cut educational or other productive programs to save money rather than give people their lives back. 

The result? Communities who must learn to hold their breath. The families who await their loved ones are also victims of time loss. The spouses who countdown anniversary after anniversary without their lover, the children who celebrate birthdays without their mother or father, the parents who age as their children spend years locked away. These thoughts can make your blood boil, but watching Time evokes a more productive feeling. Yes, anger still has room here but not without positivity.

When her husband went away to jail for their joint robbery, Sibil was already a mother and pregnant with twins. Of course it was not easy but she took the sentencing with grace and a forward-thinking attitude. This film is tough but, more than that, hopeful. The documentary in its best moments reads as an art film, sensitively inviting us to wait with Sybil, who is put on hold pending news of her husband’s release.

It is the strength of Sibil that allows this story to be encouraging. Director Bradley considered herself lucky to have Sibil as a subject calling her a co-director. She is personable, intelligent and a phenomenal speaker; the ideal narrator for any storyteller. She offers both facts and well-needed humanity to this American epidemic. With her own personal archive of footage over the 21-year waiting period to her family being reunited and clips of sermons by her to educate and help other victims of the criminal justice system, she has already made a change in the system through her relentless efforts. In one of the best projects at Sundance this year, director Garrett Bradley allows one family the space to break down the atrocities done to them by the the Prison Industrial Complex System.