The Reel Review
This Oscar-nominated documentary chronicles Sibil Fox Richardson’s 20 year campaign to get her husband Rob freed from the Louisiana State Penitentiary, following his whopping, 60 year sentence in 1999 for robbing a bank – essentially a life sentence. Initially it was a sentence without the possibility of probation or even parole.
This thought-provoking story from director Garrett Bradley is about tremendous loss due to a single life-changing mistake – and a legal system cruelly stacked against the poor and against people of color.
Beasley shoots the present day interviews in black and white to match the excerpts from Robertson’s 18 years of home videos. Set to a poignant piano score, it gives the film a cohesive, hypnotic vibe, but it also makes the transitions between present day and the home videos more difficult to follow.
For viewers paying close attention, this is a highly personal and heartbreaking look at the long lasting psychological impact of incarceration on the families of those imprisoned – their constant disappointment, their sense of loss, and their frustration.
But Bradley illustrates that Sibil, who’s become a motivational speaker, kept hope alive while raising six boys, instilling in them the importance of education to better themselves. Her odds-defying tenacity and self introspection culminates in a powerful, emotional finalé.
• Originally director Garrett Bradley intended for Sibil Rich to be the subject of a short film. But after Rich gave Bradley the 18 years of home videos, it evolved into a feature documentary.
• At the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, Bradley became the first black woman to win the Directing Award in the U.S. Documentary category.
• A report from the advocacy group The Sentencing Project (sentencingproject.org) shows that blacks are incarcerated at state prisons in the United States at five times the rate of whites, and at least ten times the rate of whites in five states: New Jersey, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota and Vermont.
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