• February 9, 2023

A Conversation With The Director Of Oscar-Nominated Documentary ‘Time’ : NPR

NPR’s Michel Martin speaks to director Garrett Bradley about her new film, which follows a woman campaigning for the release of her husband, who is serving a 60-year prison sentence.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

How many times have you heard that? If you can’t do the time, then don’t do the crime. Let’s say you committed the crime. But what if time meant what’s left of your adult life for a first crime that didn’t hurt anyone? And it meant that your children were growing up without a father, your wife without a husband, and your ward without another man who could likely take his place as a contributing member again when the opportunity arises. That is the provocative question at the heart of a powerful documentary called “Time”.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, “TIME”)

SIBIL FOX RICHARDSON: You’ve been raising a family behind bars for 20 years. In this facility you will have kept a family together for two decades. You hold on to loved ones and sanity amid this cruel and unusual punishment. Then you can talk to me. Then you can tell me if I am doing the crime I should be doing the time.

MARTIN: That’s the voice of Fox Rich, the woman in the center of Time. She has spent most of the last 20 years campaigning for the release of her husband Rob, who was sentenced to 60 years in Louisiana State Prison in Angola, La., For a robbery both of them committed in the early 1990s. Director Garret Bradley combines video diaries Fox recorded for her husband in the 1990s with intimate glimpses into her and the family’s life.

Bradley won the US Award for Documentary Direction for “Time” at the Sundance Film Festival last year, becoming the first black woman to do so. Earlier this month the film was nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary. And Garret Bradley is with us now to tell us more about “time”.

Garrett Bradley, thank you for joining us. Congratulations.

GARRETT BRADLEY: Oh, Michel, thank you very much. It is such a pleasure to be here.

MARTIN: So, as briefly as possible – because the film is remarkable for both the story and the way you tell the story – I mean, you would tell us as briefly as you can about this family to have met?

BRADLEY: Yeah. I first met Fox when I was making a short film called “Alone,” which was made with the New York Times Op-Docs. And I had really seen this as a film that was really to facilitate conversation between women in imprisoned families and really a source of support for both each other and everyone who saw the film.

And when “Alone” came out, it felt to me like I honestly had a real calling. I could see that there was a real absence in stories and films that really spoke of incarceration from the family perspective. And that was really a look at the implications of incarceration, the implications of the facts.

And Fox and I had developed a relationship. I got to know the family. I met Robert even though he was in Angola. And it was a natural thing for us to do something together and continue this conversation from that perspective.

MARTIN: I don’t want to just focus on the craft of film, but I have to say it’s remarkable. And something that stood out in the film was the amount of footage that was from Fox herself, from the tapes she had made. All I have to say is, you know, one reason it’s noteworthy is that losing a past is something that a lot of African Americans generally deal with – you know, the fact that they don’t have access, you know , Your stories.

But it is also true that this is Louisiana. This is New Orleans. Many people have lost all of their family pictures …

BRADLEY: Yeah.

MARTIN: … and, you know, all of your recorded past. And I was just wondering, you know, when you saw those tapes, did you just – what was on your mind?

BRADLEY: Yeah. I mean, I – so much goes through your head in a situation like this because, first of all, I didn’t know Fox had this archive when I was making the film. I was pretty much determined to believe I was going to do another 13 minute short with the family. And it wasn’t until the last day of shooting that Fox gave me a hundred hours of her personal archive.

And I think at some level there is – it is a profound and almost political act – that the archive of the black family represents to us in many cases how we see ourselves. It is sometimes the only example of how we see ourselves when mainstream society and culture don’t always portray these things in the same way. And so, on the one hand, it is an act of resistance. I think it was some kind of therapy for Fox too, right?

And it was also – you know, something that really struck me was the idea that she really has no doubt. She knew that she was going to manifest the reunion of her family, the reunification of her family, and that there was no doubt that he would be there to see these things. And I think that’s incredible.

MARTIN: So I want to play a clip for you from a scene that I thought was really powerful. It’s from one of Fox’s tapes that she made herself in the 1990s. And she’s in church asking for forgiveness. And I want to play that, and then we’ll talk a little more. Here we go.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, “TIME”)

FOX RICHARDSON: I have to ask forgiveness from my children, and I have to ask forgiveness for my past. And I have to ask forgiveness from my church and in …

(CROSSTALK)

FOX RICHARDSON: … Because you all know grace. I beg you all, please forgive me.

(APPLAUSE)

MARTIN: I mean, you can hear the emotions in her voice. But one of the reasons this caught my eye is because so many of the films we see about the prison system involve people who are either innocent or wrongly convicted. But both Rob and Fox were guilty of their crimes. They actually committed the acts for which they were convicted. Yet they invite us to think about something else. And what do you and you invite us to think about?

BRADLEY: So why do we want to do this film is the answer to your question, I think. And I asked you this question right at the beginning. Why is it important that we do this together? And both Robert and Fox said our story is the story of 2.3 million American families. And we believe our story can offer hope. And then I think my job as a filmmaker was to distill and understand what hope looks like in a cinematic and actionable way. How does this affect your daily life?

And I think it really looked like three things. It was union. You know it was their ability to stay together over a 21 year period as a family so strong that even some families, you know where – incarceration isn’t a factor that could be difficult, is it? It was individuality – the fact that every family member is an individual. They are not covered or defined by the system. And it was love you know – Love that surpasses all time and space, that is not linear, that is not tied to any chronology.

And I think it is. You know, it’s all three of these things that we want to share with the world. It’s kind of a celebration. Again, it’s something that – and it’s not just the 2.3 million people who are actually incarcerated. It is, if not twice, three times, four times as many as those who serve outside of time. So these are daily forms of resistance that are in action every day.

MARTIN: Garrett, before we let you go, this is a question I probably should have asked you sooner, but why did they rob this credit union or try to rob this credit union?

BRADLEY: I mean, there are so many different answers to why you go wrong, you know? You were young. You tried right. They went to family members. They tried to get a loan. They were – they needed money, you know? But I think Fox himself and Robert, you know, said we made a mistake, you know? We did – we got desperate, you know?

And as Fox says, desperate people do desperate things. You have a moment of madness. And I think if we want to live in a better world we have to see forgiveness as a really important part of growth and development – you know we can’t be a static society.

MARTIN: This is Garrett Bradley. She is the director of the Oscar nominated documentary “Time,” which is now available to stream on Amazon Prime.

Garrett Bradley, thank you for being with us. Congratulations.

BRADLEY: Thank you, Michel.

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