Top of the Docs #36 – LFF Special: ‘Time’ (2020)

Welcome to Top of the Docs, Flip Screen’s hub for all things documentary. This weekly column takes a look at the crème de la crème of non-fiction media. This month takes a look at the best documentaries screening across the UK’s film festival scene. This week we are at the London Film Festival!

2020 has been a turbulent year. Aside from the global pandemic, state violence against Black Americans has come into the spotlight with such urgency that hasn’t been seen in a generation. The murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor have caused worldwide outrage, and increased interest in various issues that Black Americans have been fighting against for decades. One such issue is that of abolition. It is well documented that the American prison system is built upon white supremacy, with the Prison Policy Initiative finding that “Black and Native youths are overrepresented in the US prison system.” There have been a number of films that have covered this topic over the past few years, notably Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk, and Ava DuVernay’s 13th. This year however, Garrett Bradley, a first-time filmmaker, brings us perhaps the most damning indictment of the system yet, with her film Time.

Rob Richardson was sentenced to sixty years without parole by a Louisiana Judge for armed robbery – a crime he pleaded guilty to. Time follows Fox Rich, Rob’s devoted wife, who works every day to try and bring her husband home. This is not a film attempting to make a case for Rob’s innocence, it is much more than that, it is instead asking what good his sentence does. How can the separation of a young family, the segregation of communities with no rebuttal, be seen as justice?

The film uses two decades of footage, from home videos to present day interviews, to create an image of what feels like a life on hold. Time takes these twenty years – but a third of Rob’s sentence – and condenses them into 81 minutes of hope, fight, and anger. The weaving between past and present, and the uncertainty of the future, creates a tapestry that captures not only the struggle of Fox, but also that of her two sons.

Time manages to balance the personal with the political in such an intelligent and skilful way that it is easy to forget that this is Bradley’s first feature. Fox’s personal struggle, though relatable to many, is very much her own. What Bradley does with Time is allow Fox to use her and her family’s story to scrutinise the system that has been oppressing them not simply through interviews, but through the capturing of this oppression in real time. We see over two decades how this family evolves to adapt despite a key member of its unit being forcibly removed. Bradley captures their strength, and displays it not simply as a commendable trait, but one that has been forced on them by the white supremacist state. The Richardson’s, like countless other Black families, are strong out of necessity, and a need to survive.

Trailer for Time.

Time is available to stream on Amazon Prime at the time of writing.

Header image courtesy of Amazon