Still from "Time" is a black and white photo of a couple kissing in a car. As they turn towards each other, one has their eyes closed while the other's eyes are open and looking at the camera.

Issue 001 Fall 2020 Reviews

An Archive of Love

A review of Garrett Bradley’s Time

by Racquel Gates

A still from Time by Ursula Garrett Bradley, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.


A framed photo of my grandmother at fourteen years old hangs in my apartment, one that she commissioned a professional photographer to take upon her arrival in Chicago from Georgia, in 1942. I once asked my grandmother why she had placed so much importance on documenting this moment, to which she simply replied, “To show that I was here.” I thought about that conversation, and the role of Black women as unofficial archivists of Black experience, as I watched Time (2020), Garrett Bradley’s moving and revelatory film that depicts one family’s love, and the power of that love, in the face of the destructive effects of the prison-industrial complex.

We feel the rapid passage of the years most poignantly in these cuts, ever aware that we are witnessing events in the present that exist in the past, fleeting glimpses of moments already gone.

Time chronicles the experiences of Fox Richardson as she raises her family and fights for the release of her incarcerated husband, Rob, who was sentenced to sixty years in prison for a robbery that the couple committed. Spanning two decades and composed of a seamless montage of Bradley’s present-day black-and-white film and the home video footage that Fox recorded and saved for eighteen years, Time does not just present an account of the events that mark the passing of time while Robert is gone; it offers the viewer an immersive experience of time itself.


TIME

Still from the film "Time" is a black and white image of a group of people walking down a street. They mostly wear white shirts or jackets and are all walking in the same direction.
Time (2020) film stills courtesy of Amazon Studios

Bradley deftly weaves together scenes that alternate between past and present. The film begins with Fox addressing the camera and proudly displaying her round stomach, pregnant with twins. Later, we see Fox proudly quizzing one of those twins as he prepares for his high school French exam. We feel the rapid passage of the years most poignantly in these cuts, ever aware that we are witnessing events in the present that exist in the past, fleeting glimpses of moments already gone.

Official archives in this country are imperfect—and violent—in their erasure of Black people, forcefully articulating their histories of what matters, a subject that Bradley has explored most notably in her previous work America (2019). Fox’s collection of tapes is a labor of love meant for Robert’s eyes, yet the extensiveness of her archived life is underwritten with a sense of urgency: to document, to record, to say “I was here” in a world where Black families, and Black lives, must continue to insist on their right to live and love in a world openly hostile to their very existence. In Bradley’s hands, Fox’s extensive collection of home video footage (that the director only learned about on the last day of shooting) is transformed into an allegory for the revolutionary power of love—Black love—in the face of the prison-industrial complex that destroys Black families and robs individuals of their dignity and humanity.

Fox’s collection of tapes is a labor of love meant for Robert’s eyes, yet the extensiveness of her archived life is underwritten with a sense of urgency: to document, to record, to say “I was here” in a world where Black families, and Black lives, must continue to insist on their right to live and love in a world openly hostile to their very existence.

How do you document eighteen years in the life of a family? How can you ever be fully present in the moment when, at the same time, the moment already exists as a memory? These are the melancholic questions that linger in the air as Bradley brings us into the Richardson family’s most intimate moments, from the first shot of Fox’s face gazing into the camera to the ecstatic scene of Robert’s release from prison. Yet the film’s closing sequence—a breathtaking piece of filmmaking in which Bradley takes us backward rapidly through time—concludes the film on a boldly hopeful note. Robert’s liberation is not the end of the narrative; it is a beginning. Memory is ephemeral. Film stock degrades. But love? Love remains.


TIME