Although centred around the devastating social injustice imposed upon one American family, Garrett Bradley’s gut-wrenching documentary Time reflects the struggle of thousands in US society. Sibil Richardson, a woman of immense pride and willpower, has spent the past two decades of her life raising her six children whilst restlessly campaigning for the release of her husband Robert, who was handed an unprecedented sentence of 60 years without parole after participating in an armed robbery. Following the mother of six’s battle with the judicial system from their father’s incarceration in 1999 to the present day, Time takes viewers on an immeasurably personal journey. The sons grow into men, the world continues to turn, but love and belief remain stronger than ever.
Using home video to partially tell this heart-breaking story – interjected with the camera crew’s footage of the present day – the film allows onlookers into the private lives of the Richardson family, creating an instant, unbreakable bond between subject and observer. Sibil carries the audience with her, hand outstretched, through the turbulent minefield of injustice she faces, remaining resilient and assured in her beliefs that one day, she and her sons will be reunited with Robert. Like the subject, the audience is given no guarantees – all we can do is hold on to what we have and follow her motto that “success is the best revenge” as the feature hurtles towards a climax.
Through seemingly endless trials and tribulations, the charismatic Sibil has become profoundly stronger as a mother and individual. Part of the joy of this documentary is how it takes the time to display how she gives back to the community, proving to be an impassioned and driven public speaker who is willing to do all she can to fight and change the system for what she believes to be the greater good. Throughout the picture, the subject asks questions such as: “how can a system aim to reform and re-educate when the punishment is so harsh? How efficient really is the judicial system in the United States?” As the credits roll after a well-earned conclusion, these issues remain with the viewer, the sheer size of Robert’s sentencing providing enough evidence to support Sibil’s claims of a broken system.
As the director, Bradley also plays an integral part in the triumph of this documentary. The filmmaker is evidently invested heavily in the story: she lets each message ring loud and clear, from the agonising minutes of silence as Sibil is put on hold awaiting a legal update, to her mother labelling mass incarceration as a modern-day form of slavery. Using a black and white filter, Bradley not only symbolises how the subject and her family have been feeling since Robert was imprisoned but emphasises the significance of how the father is missing major moments in his children’s lives – from first days at school to graduation ceremonies. It takes something special to get an audience to align with the aspirations and desperation of the lead character in such a short run time, but Bradley achieves this with ease.
A score from Jamieson Shaw and Edwin Montgomery featuring both blues and orchestral numbers whisks audience members away on this touching voyage, making Time a powerful documentary that is as draining for the viewer as the struggle must have been for Sibil over the past 20 years, only making it more obvious what an amazing woman she is. Having previously shown at Sundance, Bradley was rightfully presented with the Best Director Award for her work on this beautifully moving picture, but ultimately it is an accolade that represents so much more. Sibil says “time is influenced by our emotions” and if this is the case, the emotions evoked by this film will begin to have a greater effect on the wider political sphere and operation of the penal system in the United States.
Time is released on Prime Video on the 16th of October 2020.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2020 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.
Watch the trailer for Time here: