By Cameron Kaercher
For better or worse, Netflix has changed how people perceive documentaries. Their miniseries like “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness,” has brought true stories of crime into popular culture. However, there is an undeniable sense of sensationalism and showmanship about them.
If one were to summarize the story, they would sound like a carnival barker. “Step right up! Marvel at a gun-toting polygamist that owns a zoo and was arrested for murder for hire!”
Filmmaker Garrett Bradley’s latest documentary offers a humanistic counterpoint to these stories.
“Time” centers around Sibil Fox Richardson, a mother of six, fighting for the release of her husband, Rob. At the time of filming, he had served 19 years of his 60-year sentence. Sibil was arrested for the same incident, but only served three and a half years.
During a discussion with Eugene Hernandez, director of the New York Film Festival, Bradley recalled that she was originally prepared to make a short film about Richardson’s story. As filming wrapped up, Richardson gave Bradley about a hundred hours’ worth of home movies, shot on 4:3 video. The sudden influx of extra footage proved to Bradley this project deserved a feature-length.
The new footage also created a full story, as the film already had a plot. The true story is of a family that ends up being shaped by an absence, about children that are growing up without ever meeting their father, and a mother/wife learning to cope with this loss. This also sets up a potential issue as it could feel like two different people are making the movie; Bradley is directing the contemporary footage, while the Richardson family is shooting the flashback footage.
However, it never feels messy. It just feels like a necessary piece to the puzzle. The home movies show car rides, first days of school and time spent with grandparents. The film also has generational stories as well. Bradley interviews the grandmother of the Richardson family to hear what she has to say about her daughter. We also watch Sibil’s children grow up over the course of the film. We see them from crawling on all fours wearing diapers to speaking in front of their class about running for student government.
The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, where Bradley left with the Directing Award in the U.S. Documentary competition. This win is more than deserving, as her directorial voice is so personal because she ignores the easy drama. She never shows a court proceeding or news report on what happened. The story is in the small things that happen between the big things. For example, a phone call that gets cut short delivers more drama than any trial footage could.
The final 15 minutes of the film are the greatest of the year. Editor Gabriel Rhodes proves that documentaries deserve awards recognition outside of the type of film’s usual categories. It perfectly ties up the story’s themes and humanity, making “Time” one of the great documentaries of the year. “Time” will be released online through Amazon Prime Oct. 23.