Sure, today’s streaming market is oversaturated with an endless listing of content that no one could ever possibly consume in its entirety. But there’s still some good content out there, right? The answer is yes – if you can find it.
At the moment, one of the best things you can watch is none other than an Amazon Studios movie from short film and documentary director Garrett Bradley.
You’ve most likely never heard of Bradley, and I hadn’t either until I watched her latest project, a documentary simply titled Time. Time looks at its subject matter directly, bluntly, and distinctly. There is little noticeable editing or post-production work beyond the black and white photography, as Bradley cuts between home video recordings of her subjects and more recent footage.
Her protagonist is Sibil Fox Richardson, a mother of six who embarks on a multiple decade long journey to earn her husband’s release from prison. Out of poverty-stricken desperation, Sibil’s husband, Rob, committed armed robbery at a credit union to assist his family’s financial situation. His sentence was harsh— 60 years in prison with no chance for probation or parole. Bradley exquisitely captures the hurt imposed upon Rob’s family in a measured, delicate, and altogether harrowing light.
All the home video footage Bradley uses was filmed by Sibil herself to capture the joys and optimism of her young family and youthful romance with Rob, and also to capture the desperation faced by her family once he was incarcerated. After his imprisonment, Sibil begins directing her once-joyous home videos directly to Rob, saying, “Do you know how hard I’m gonna be smiling when you come home?”
It’s undoubtedly these moments that both define Sibil’s journey back to her husband as well as her unrelenting spirit. There’s never a moment in the movie where she loses faith, there’s never a moment where you get the sense that she’s lost hope, and there’s never a moment where she gives in.
Ultimately, Bradley doesn’t just view time as distinctly part of now. She, and the story she tells, underscore that what we do in the present is inextricably linked to the future. This idea seeps through every inch of the movie. Her black and white photography is complimented gorgeously by a fleeting and impassable score from Jamieson Shaw and Edwin Montgomery, crafted almost entirely on the piano.
“Twenty years is a long time, but hope is what must carry us forward.” There’s a lot that Bradley wants to say about our criminal justice system – that it devastates low-income families and families of color and enacts retributive punishment when it’s absolutely unnecessary. Still, it can’t be overcome without hope. Change begins with hope, and there cannot exist any positive change without first believing that such a change is possible.