The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of Time.
This is such a moving film. What was your emotional reaction as a filmmaker while telling this story?
Garrett Bradley: Part of the impetus for me in making a project is that I’m already emotionally affected by something. I’m not going out and looking for stories. I think I’ve been incredibly lucky to be working in a space where the projects develop out of real relationships and things I’m already in proximity to. That isn’t to say I didn’t learn things or that my emotional capacity was still limited. I think a part of what has become really clear as the film has come out and been seen by people is that their questions really affirm and illuminate what was really meaningful and important to me in the making of the film. It’s very much tied to visibility and this question of erasure and of thinking about the abstract nature of 2.3 million people that are incarcerated. It was always really important to think about the effects of the facts. It’s about the rippling effect. It’s about what we really understand on a human and emotional level about 2.3 million people being incarcerated. When we think about this current moment and police brutality and the uprisings and the incredible role of the white allyship that is unprecedented that we’ve seen this year, so much of that is tied to optics, tied to visibility, tied to technology. And yet, when we think about the prison industrial complex, I think it really illuminates the void that exists there in being able to see what 2.3 million incarcerated people looks like. The only way to prove that and to show the effects of that is with the family, with those that are on the outside. In the process of making the film, those ideas and realities were only reaffirmed with me in a very real and visceral way.
it was very clear that the film was going to be something wildly different than what I had envisioned
Can you talk about putting together the structure of the film? It’s unconventional and very effective.
I had originally thought I was making another short film. And the purpose of that was for me to focus on the minutiae and really illustrate how the system unequivocally embeds itself in daily life so you can’t separate yourself from the system. I spent a lot of time with Fox at work and in these very specific moments that I thought would help show and indicate that. When I thought I was done shooting—as you know, when you’re making a documentary, you have to shop shooting at some point for budget or deadline reasons—I remember saying to Fox, I’m going to come back and show you a cut of the film. And right as I was leaving, she handed me a hundred hours’ worth of her own personal home archive that she herself had not looked at since she shot it in the 90s. She knew a little bit about what was on the tapes but hadn’t really combed through it or curated it in any way. At that moment, it was very clear that the film was going to be something wildly different than what I had envisioned, and hopefully for the better.
Why did you choose to present the film in black and white? Were Fox’s videos shot that way?
The archive was actually all in color. I had really thought about this being a sister film to my short film, Alone. Alone was in black and white. This was this sort of superficial “I’m going to extrapolate the aesthetics and the pace and the tone from Alone” because I wanted the two films to feel very similar. It wasn’t until we began working through the archive that we considered going into color. But ultimately we were dealing with a lot of different textures and materiality and scales of colors, and I think for myself and Gabe Rhodes—who cut the film—it was really important to find a way to structure the film so that the mythology of love allowed there to be a perpetual sense of moving forward, but also gave us the freedom to come backwards. So we could oscillate between time as much as possible. The materiality of it, the visual element of it, was really going to be the thing that either helped us do that or not do that. To point to it versus allowing it to seem more fluid and more seamless and more linear, even though we were jumping around in the chronology. At the end of the day, even though we kind of came full circle with the original intention of black and white, it was ultimately in response to a lot of the creative questions and challenges we found ourselves asking in the process of making the film.
At the end of the film, Rob gives us an acronym for love: love is Life’s Only Valid Expression. It’s a beautiful quote from an amazing man. Can you tell us about that?
We talked about a number of things in the process of making this film. For me, it again goes back to the question, what is the intention of the folks I’m working with? If the intention is to bring hope to the 2.3 million that are incarcerated, if not double or triple that number when we take into account those that are affected, how do I as a filmmaker translate that into my own practice, into the film, into the visual medium. I think what that turned into was thinking about resistance. How can the film also show different forms of resistance that we may take for granted, that we may not have as many optics for or visual examples of? When we think about resistance or protest, we might think about actually going out into the street and participating in something like a public protest. But how can we think about love, how can we think about a family staying together over the course of 21 years, how can we think about one’s ability to maintain their sense of individuality amidst the system… these are all forms of resistance. So I think that quote at the end of the film was incredibly important because we needed to hear from Rob. Even though for me the film ended once Fox and the family were successful in bringing him back home. It was also so crucial that he have a voice and that we see him and that he express himself in a way that felt true to himself. But I also felt it really reinforced this idea of what hope was, which is connected to these ideas of alternative forms of resistance. And love and unity and individuality are equally as powerful forms of resistance that all of us are engaging in every day. I wanted to celebrate and share that idea.