A persuasive doc about incarceration told gently and poweerfully by a devoted wife. Now at the Gateway Film Center and Oct 16 on Prime.
Director: Garrett Bradley (American Rhapsody)
Cast: Sibil Fox Richardson, et al.
Runtime: 81 min
By: John DeSando
“It’s almost like slavery time, like the white man keep you there until he figures it’s time for you to get out.” Robert Richardson’s mother.
It’s not what you would expect, this personal documentary narrated by Sibil Fox Richardson about the 21 years she waited for her husband, Robert, to be released from prison for a robbery he committed with her in 1997 in Shreveport, La. It is a quiet essay with almost professional grade home video for Sibil as she narrates the patient struggle to get her husband’s sentence reduced from 65 years.
Although such a draconian sentence begs for the sobriquet of “Black racism,” the doc, deftly directed by Garrett Bradley, makes few allusions to that societal challenge. It is rather, as its title succinctly suggests, a treatise on the passage of time with its attendant sorrows and its equally powerful hope: “God looks over the sparrows, Sibil. He’s going to look over us,” says Robert.
Sibil took a plea bargain of twelve years in order to attend to what would be six children, as handsome and articulate as their mom and dad. No weeping and gnashing, just melancholy longing to take time back to when the family had so much promise. Smartly, Bradley shows videos in the final shots of the family in reverse as if time could be altered but never would be.
He also makes the right decision to leave the doc in black and white in order to blend the past with the present. Unlike other documentaries about carceral injustice, Time does not demand we accept Robert as victim—it accepts his mistake and subtly suggests only that the sentence was excessive.
By showing the talented Sibil doggedly working for reform (she could have been a preacher) and her exemplary family soldiering on without dad is the best argument for careful, unbiased sentencing in a system that fails to account for incarceration’s effect on everyone, the convict’s family and us. Law and order sometimes forget the human factor.
“But at my back I always hear/ Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.” Andrew Marvel
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JohnDeSando62@gmail.com