“Time,” Garrett Bradley‘s Oscar-nominated documentary on Amazon Prime, was never meant to be a feature-length film. The filmmaker originally conceived “Time” as 13-minute companion short film to her 2017 op-doc short “Alone,” which follows a woman whose fiancé is incarcerated. For “Time,” Bradley met Sibil Fox Richardson, known as Fox Rich, whose husband Rob Rich was serving a 60-year prison sentence, and then got a gift on the last day of filming.
“It wasn’t until our last day of making this short that [Rich] handed me what ended up being 100 hours of her home personal archive, which really forced myself and Gabe Rhodes, who cut the film, to radically rethink what we were making and how it was going to exist, in addition to it obviously being longer,” Bradley explains during Gold Derby’s Meet the BTL Experts: Documentary panel (watch above). “She handed me this little black bag that had tones of mini-DV tapes in it and said, ‘Maybe this will be useful to you.’ It was pretty casual for what it ended up being. It was also terrifying for me. There’s no backups and you’ve got it in your car, driving around — someone’s entire history, their life.”
The tapes contained nearly 20 years of footage of Rich’s efforts to obtain an early release for her husband (they committed a bank robbery in 1997, for which Rich served three and a half years) and her life raising their six boys — two of whom are twins she was pregnant with when Rob was imprisoned and had never known life with their father. As Bradley started turning “Time” into a feature-length doc, she didn’t want to lose sight of the Riches’ specific yet universal story and her intention with the film. “For me, that was connected to their message of this a story of 2.3 million American families [affected by mass incarceration] and we feel this story could offer hope. And I didn’t want that to change,” she says. “It boiled down to going through the archive and making sure every frame, every single inch of the film was an illustration of that intention, what hope looked like for their family in their daily ritual and routine.”
Shot in black and white, “Time” weave togethers Bradley’s original footage with Rich’s tapes, which were originally in color. Because “Alone” was in black and white, Bradley, who won the U.S. Documentary Directing Award at Sundance last year, had already planned on “Time” being monochrome as well. “I did for a moment play with the film in color,” she shares. “The experimentation process was really telling and because structurally in the edit we are both moving forward and backward at the same time, I came full circle with needing Saran Wrap over the film to create a level of linearity that isn’t totally there within the structure of the film. A lot of that was also connected to the music and wanting to use [Edwin Montgomery and Jamieson Shaw‘s] music, and oddly enough, the music with the color spectrum, it brought the work to a level that was too much, for lack of a better phrase. It was like hopping from one stone to the next instead of being a river.”
The lyrical, dream-like black-and-white quality also evokes memories, something Bradley said they discussed a lot. “The beauty of what we do as filmmakers is we are memory-makers,” she states. “Films are not physical objects. The closest moment we get to touching a film is in the actual construction of it and even then it’s pretty hard to capture. It really exists in our mind and in our hearts. I really wanted to find a way to try to evoke the way life really is. We have memories and those memories inform our present moment and the decisions that we make and how we feeling about something and how we’re processing something.”
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