Hello, it’s Chrystel. I hope you are safe wherever you are listening from. I want to give a brief sense of a documentary I was lucky to see at the London Film Festival. It is called Time and it was directed by Garrett Bradley. I’m not making it up; Time literally blew my mind in all kinds of ways. It feels extremely timely. I’m currently in Lagos, in Nigeria, and the streets are on fire right now against police brutality. People are discussing seriously the possibility of abolishing the police. It’s amazing to see this fight resonate in so many places around the world.
But let’s focus on New Orleans, where the movie takes place.
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[Excerpt from Time:] “Let me get it clear from the start. I know I didn’t get away with nothing, but my life.”
Time tells a compelling and true story of love, kinship and life beyond and against the carceral state. The film opens on Sibil Richardson, also known as Fox Rich, a well-known activist and abolitionist. She films herself up close and pregnant with twins, and you see her getting closer to the camera, creating a sense of intimacy. She is talking not to us, but to her incarcerated husband. He has been handed a devastating 60-year sentence. It honestly speaks to the absurdity and cruelty of mass incarceration.
Robert, her husband, is being held at the infamous Angola prison, which is a former plantation in Louisiana. Here you see very clearly the intimacy of prison and slavery, of prison as one of the after-lives of slavery. Garrett Bradley only incorporates distant aerial footage from the prison. As the film progresses at a dizzying pace, and time flies, we are directed to focus on Sibil and her family. What we see are Sibil’s infant twins, Freedom and Justus, soon turning into toddlers and adult men. We also see Sibil fight with the bureaucratic prison system for her husband’s parole, as her hair grows greyer and greyer.
Filmmaker Garrett Bradley skilfully blends her own black-and-white shots with family archival footage. It kind of creates a complex architecture between her slow-paced and attentive camera and the vérité-style wandering and erratic qualities of the family footage, with grainy texture. Throughout the movie the line between director and directed blurs, and we witness what feels like an improvisational collaboration between Bradley and Richardson.
The family footage is filled with moments in transit. The car is an omnipresent object. It’s a pervasive frame of vision that testifies to the limbo in which the carceral state forces people. But the car is also the forceful insistence to maintain connection and a mobility that transcends carcerality. Time engulfs us into a temporal symphony which speaks to the time of confinement, its ability to distend endlessly but also to the quotidian rhythm of everyday life, punctuated by small happenings, for instance the twins’ first day at school, friend visits, family celebrations or spiritual events…
[Excerpt from Time:] “My mama says, shit is easy to get into… It’s been 20 years you all. It’s been 20 years you all. It’s been 2 decades you all. It’s been 20 long years. It is hard to get out of.”
Sibil’s powerful voice as a wife, a mother of 6, a business owner and an abolitionist truly carries the documentary forward. Time is a testament to black families and more specifically black women’s resilience and ability to stitch lives together, even in the face of relentless oppression.
I remain truly galvanised by the poetic cadence which marks Sibil’s speeches. She reminds me of a genealogy of abolitionist female figures in film, from Sarah Maldoror’s Monangambé to Haile Gerima’s Bush Mama. In a context of global cries for police abolition, this documentary could not have come at a better time. I truly hope every single one of you gets to see it and to partake in its intoxicating call for liberation.
About the LFF Critics Mentorship Programme
Acknowledging a lack of diversity in film criticism the London Film Festival Critics Mentorship programme gives meaningful experience and opportunity to a range of talented emerging film writers to hone their craft and gain new contacts by being immersed in the film festival. Now in its third year, the 2020 programme was offered exclusively to 6 up-and-coming black writers who were mentored by Akua Gyamfi, journalist, commentator and founder of The British Blacklist, and film critic, journalist and screenwriter Kate Muir.
The mentees spent the 5 days of the mentorship programme making the most of this year’s hybrid festival experience, watching films virtually as well as meeting IRL to watch Mangrove at BFI Southbank on opening night, learning from their mentors and each other. They workshopped reviews in various styles, including for a broadsheet newspaper, a tabloid, Sight & Sound magazine and a podcast review.
As well as accessing the festival Screen Talks and industry events programme, they heard from leading names from the industry with a series of Zoom chats including with Steve McQueen and Kemp Powers, and UK film critics Mark Kermode, Baz Bamigboye, Anna Smith, Ashanti Omkar and Amon Warmann. They also spoke to Ebony Amoroso, Director of Inclusion and Diversity for Endeavor, attended a ‘meet the LFF festival programmers’ session led by Festival Director Tricia Tuttle, and met Ulrich Schrauth, the new programmer for the immersive and XR strand LFF Expanded, at BFI Southbank.
Each mentee was individually paired with a mentor from the LFF’s media partners (Evening Standard, Empire, Little White Lies , Screen Daily, Sight & Sound, Time Out), to give them insight into criticism and film writing for their outlet and giving them support to produce a number of articles from the festival.
“I’m impressed and inspired,” comments lead mentor Akua Gyamfi. ”It’s been an honour and a real pleasure to co-mentor this year’s LFF Critics Mentorship group with Kate. The young writers we chose exceeded expectation and are all testament to the brilliance of this scheme and how rich the critical world could be if it opened its doors to new and diverse writers.”
Lead mentor Kate Muir adds: “Meet the future of film criticism. I loved working with our emerging critics who were the real heroes of this year’s virtual London Film Festival.”