Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Arts & Culture

New Documentary 'Time' Argues For More Just, Compassionate Future

Fox and Rob Rich are the subject of the new documentary "Time."
Amazon Studios
Fox and Rob Rich are the subject of the new documentary "Time."

Sundance award-winner playing at newly reopened Landmark Hillcrest Cinemas

Garrett Bradley's documentary "Time" — now playing at newly reopened Landmark's Hillcrest Cinemas — looks to one woman’s fight for the release of her husband who is serving a 60-year sentence in prison.

Sometimes there is a moment in a film that is so perfect that it seems to sum up everything the filmmaker wants to say with succinct eloquence. There is a moment like that in "Time."

The scene occurs after Fox Rich has been fighting for years to get her husband's case reopened and finally has a reason for hope in a ruling coming from a judge. The judge said he would rule in two days and Fox places a call to his office for an update. She is politely put on hold and the camera waits with her. She is told the person she needs to speak with is still busy and would she like to still hold, which of course she does. Then the woman finally comes on the phone to cheerily say that sorry the judge has not made a ruling, maybe on Monday, have a nice weekend.

New Documentary 'Time' Argues For More Just, Compassionate Future
Listen to this story by Beth Accomando.

That simple scene is absolutely devastating because we know how many years Fox has been fighting for her husband, we know how much this ruling can mean to her and her family, and we're shocked at how oblivious the woman on the other end of the phone was to how important this was to Fox.

I know, you can excuse the judge's secretary for being busy or for the judge having more than this one case on his plate. But it just reveals how little awareness there seems to be in the judicial system for the humanity of the people going through it.

The judge's office sounds no different than customer service at a store apologizing that your toaster is on back order. But the reality is that it is about a human being seeking his freedom.

The scene is also brilliant for how it makes us experience time. How just those few minutes on hold feel like an eternity, and how that allows us time to reflect on how long Fox has been pleading her case. Perhaps being in quarantine and self-isolation will make people more open to this exploration of time because they themselves are experiencing time in a completely different way.

Bradley states in the press materials that she wants her documentary "Time" to "encourage people to imagine a more just and compassionate future for us all." That really is a simple and seemingly humane request yet if the Black Lives Matter protests have shown us anything it is that so many people do not seem to care and do not seem able to empathize with African Americans pointing out systemic racism in this country.

Bradley tries to argue her case through the story of Fox and Rob Rich, a couple who committed a robbery out of desperation when they were young. Fox, who was pregnant with twins at the time of arrest, served three-and-a-half years, but Rob was sentenced to 60 years with no possibility of parole. When Fox was released she dedicated her life to getting her husband out of prison.

Fox Rich at two different points in her life, first making a video diary for her husband who is beginning a 60-year prison sentence, and then after years of fighting to try and get his case reopened. Fox and Rob Rich's story is the subject of the new documentary "Time."
Amazon Studios
Fox Rich at two different points in her life, first making a video diary for her husband who is beginning a 60-year prison sentence, and then after years of fighting to try and get his case reopened. Fox and Rob Rich's story is the subject of the new documentary "Time."

Fox says, "My story is the story of over 2.3 million people in the United States of America who are falling prey to the incarceration of poor people and people of color."

As her battle extends to nearly two decades she comes to describe herself as an abolitionist trying to bring an end to the slavery she sees within the U.S. judicial and prison system.

She readily admits that what she and her husband did was wrong. She accepts responsibility, and she apologizes to and asks forgiveness from some of the people who were in the credit union she and her husband robbed. But she does not accept the sentence her husband received as just and fair in any way and neither should we.

At one point her son, who is graduating early from high school to go to college and study political science, talks about the struggle and says, "If we are to transform criminal justice system in order to make it more a forgiving system then you have to understand how it operates and so my whole thing is then be able to be a policy advocate for policies that target people of color."

Fox's passion and activism is passed on to her children in a forceful and impressive way. Through Fox's video diary that she kept for her incarcerated husband, we see her kids grow from infants to young men who join ranks with her in her battle.

There is a scene in what appears to be a lawyer's office where we hear a man tell Fox and her sons about the court they are going to be entering: "They resent that you all are coming from a place of power and assertion of rights rather than soliciting a favor."

And that addresses another aspect of America's systemic racism, this sense that Black Americans should not be loudly demanding and expecting these rights but patiently waiting for white America to grant them.

Bradley shows us another call Fox makes trying to get information on yet another ruling. But this time after being placed on hold and politely told there is no information yet, Fox hangs up and lets loose a tirade.

"Man these people have no respect for other human beings lives it just drives you crazy," she says before chanting "Success is the best revenge" and pounding her desk.

"Time" wants us to understand that injustice is not just about innocent people wrongfully imprisoned but also about guilty people whose punishments do not fit their crimes.

"Time" states it case with compassion and a stunning sense of artistry. Bradley makes some genuinely thoughtful, beautiful and provocative choices in how she tells this story. As the title implies, time is a key element and Bradley's interweaving of Fox's video diaries with new interviews creates an ebb and flow that is exquisite.

I hope the film's intimate and deeply personal story allows it to transcend race and politics to reach a wide audience and encourage a larger discussion about justice and racial inequities. It is a film that is full of love and hope but also anger and frustration. But perhaps the most basic pleas the film makes is that we need to see each other as human beings and as sometimes flawed individuals who deserve our compassion.