The documentary’s nonsequential assemblage suggests that, for Bradley, time itself is a medium through which to examine the conditions for the incarcerated and for their loved ones left behind. Bradley, who is the first Black woman to win best director for a U.S. documentary at the Sundance Film Festival, originally broached this topic in her 2017 New York Times op-doc, Alone, a short film that captures a young woman’s fraught and isolating decision to marry her incarcerated boyfriend. Time continues Bradley’s cinematic study of Black women’s advocacy efforts and gendered labor, illuminating the emotional toll on them to sustain interpersonal relationships, familial ties, and social networks for imprisoned loved ones.
Time begins with the first video Fox recorded 20 years ago, in which she reveals that a week and a day has passed since her own release from prison. In direct address to both Rob and an imagined audience, she reveals that she is pregnant with twins and proclaims, “I know that, despite how grim my circumstances look right now, everything will be okay.” The documentary fast-forwards through time, providing glimpses into the family’s social histories and private memories. The breadth of Fox’s archive underscores the carceral state’s ability to capture, arrest, and surveil time even beyond prison walls.
In the 80-minute collage of home video and vérité footage, Bradley illustrates how the state uses time punitively to warp the lives of the incarcerated and non-incarcerated. The stasis, suspension, and recursive nature of time for the Richardson family is endless, as they loop through repetitive legal cycles that result in no progress in their quest for Rob’s release. But Bradley also shows how Fox and her sons resist this temporal fix by going about their daily lives—getting ready for work, being honored at a white-coat ceremony, exercising, speaking at a university about prison abolition, participating in student debates, practicing French vocabulary. The Richardson family’s interpretations of time help structure their experiences of Rob’s absence. For Fox, “time is when you look at pictures from when your babies was small, and then you look at them and you see that they have moustaches and beards and that the biggest hope that you had was that before they turned into men they would have a chance to be with their father.” For their son Remington, “time is influenced by our emotions. It’s influenced by our actions.” According to one of their twins, Justus, “Time is what you make of it. Time is unbiased. Time is lost. Time flies. This situation has just been a long time. A really long time.”