CHENNAI: A US Supreme Court judge once famously remarked that capital punishment was for those without capital. What he was inferring, but did not say in so many words, was that the poorer sections of US society often face serious judicial prejudices. It is against this background that audiences have lauded the release of “Time,” a feature-length documentary that is in the race for April’s Academy Awards in the Best Documentary Feature category.
In black and white, which heightens the intensity of the plot, the movie explores how African Americans face ignominy through a judicial system that is biased against them and how their incarceration is a form of modern-day slavery. Admittedly, there have been other documentaries on the topic, but while these concentrated on mostly statistics, Garret Bradley’s “Time” shakes us with the kind of suffering those outside prison face. It tells the story of Rob and Fox Rich, who married and started a family in the early 1990s but who were both sentenced to prison when dire times saw the pair attempt to rob a bank.
Fox served three and a half years, while Rob was sentenced to 60 years without the possibility of parole due to bad legal advice. After Fox was released, she spent the next two decades raising the couple’s six boys and working to free her husband. Wisely, the director did not dwell on judicial details, choosing instead to focus on the suffering of separation faced by the family.
“Time” features myriad videos shot by Fox and interwoven by editor Gabriel Rhodes. The recent footage shows how her twins, Freedom and Justus, crave their father, while Fox hopes against hope that he will come out in time to see the boys before they turn 18. One of Fox’s primary motivations for shooting these videos was to show Rob what he was missing while in jail — a heartbreaking attempt to fill in a father on his children’s lives.
Enriching the narrative is the imaginative use of piano music by Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou. The melody is so soothing that it takes away a bit of the viewer’s pain watching Fox wade through a sea of inept lawyers and unfeeling judges. And yet, her spirit never breaks.