Director Garrett Bradley on the Role of Home Footage in Black Stories

Director and producer Garrett Bradley understands the importance of home videos to Black history in the United States. Combing through over 100 hours of family footage filmed by her subject Fox Rich for the documentary “Time,” Bradley elaborated on why this record is crucial, not only to her film, but in creating a living record of representation and a truth not often reflected in this country.

“In many cases (family archives are) the only representation of ourselves as we see ourselves,” she said. Citing bell hooks, Bradley continues, “The message in that really is that if you do not control your own narrative and create proof of your own existence, someone else is going to do that for you.”

In an interview for Variety’s “Doc/ Dreams,” presented by National Geographic, Bradley expands on the crucial role of this footage in her documentary. The film follows author, abolitionist and mother Fox Rich as she fights for over two decades for her husband’s release from prison.

At first, Bradley envisioned this story as another 13-minute short film similar to her past work on “Alone.” But after Rich surprised the director with mounds of home footage, the precious video diary reshaped the short into an 80-minute feature which weaves in and out of the family’s lives.

Deliberately abstaining from time stamps or traditional methods of documentation and instead opting for a time-jumping chronicle, Bradley seamlessly stitches together the current footage she filmed with Rich’s decades of private video messages to her then incarcerated husband. This transforms “Time” into an almost meditation on love, selfhood and hope.

Finding that narrative, with the help of her editor Gabe Rhodes, was all about intention. “Fox and Rob said, ‘Our story is the story of 2.3 million Americans and we feel that our story can offer hope,” Bradley says. “As a filmmaker, my question is well, hope can be vague. How do I distill that into specificity? What do those things look like? In this context hope looks like maintaining their selfhood, staying together over the course of 21 years and it was also love.”

Those three larger concepts became the “pillars” of Bradley’s documentary and constants throughout the editing process. Leaning into the abstract, the director was able to use the large concept of love and hope to propel her vision in a unique way. “[Love] exceeds all space and time, so when we started looking at the archive we were thinking about it strictly in those terms. That is what allowed us to go in and out of the past and the present, it allowed us to editorially and structurally have the narrative move forward while also going backwards at the same time. Because it was mimicking these things that innate to who they are, innate to the story, innate to love.”

In depicting Rich’s story, the documentarian found that the incarceration of Rich’s husband permeated almost every aspect of the family’s daily life. Watching her fight a system which was “intended to tear oneself from their individuality,” Bradley knew she wanted to focus her lens on the most ordinary acts of daily life; “I had to say to myself at a bare bones minimum if there’s anything anybody takes away from the film, it is to show that the system unequivocally embeds itself in every single element of a family’s life that there is no separation between your daily activity or routine or ritual from the system.”

This documentary process required an overall relinquishing of any expectations for Bradley. While her goal was to share the story of real people like Rich, Bradley did not plan for any specific ending while filming it. Documentaries shouldn’t work that way, she said.

“I can hope that it is an offering to the current moment, to the past, to the future,” Bradley said. “I certainly have never tried to anticipate or plan an ending. I think the power of documentary filmmaking is honoring the present moment. It’s knowing how to work within the present, and to sit in the present and to be comfortable with what you don’t have control over.”

“Time” is currently available on Amazon Prime.

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