Austin-based filmmaker Keith Maitland’s film “Dear Mr. Brody” was supposed to premiere at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival. But that was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. So was his second-chance premiere at Telluride. Instead, Maitland’s film is debuting at his hometown festival, SXSW Film. In the grand scheme of things, it’s been only a slight delay for a story waiting decades to be told.
The story started with a claim that made headlines around the world:
“A hippie millionaire who, in 1970, inherited $25 million and decided he was going to change the world by giving all the money away,” Maitland told Texas Standard.
But Maitland says that giveaway did not go as Michael Brody Jr. planned. In fact, the true details of how much money Brody did give away – or even professed to give away – remain a bit unclear. What is clear is that thousands of letters from people sent to Brody asking for a piece of his millions did not get answered. In fact, they were never opened.
“My wife’s college roommate is the person who kind of rediscovered the story,” Maitland said. “Her name is Melissa Robyn Glassman. And Melissa was working for a legendary Hollywood producer, and one day she got sent down to his storage unit in downtown L.A. to take an inventory of what was there. And in the process she made a discovery that really changed all our lives.”
That discovery was 12 large cardboard boxes all filled to the brim with unopened letters sent to Brody in January of 1970.
“And as we started looking through them and opening them and reading them. We just found story after story of people who are reaching out to this young man who is offering them help,” Maitland said.
Maitland says the letters were asking for “everything that you could imagine when it comes to want, desire and need.” And he says they couldn’t help but wonder what happened to the people who wrote those letters.
“When you go into the letters, what you start to see is that even though these letters have never been read out loud, even though these stories have never been told, these exact same stories are playing out in our society all around us,” Maitland said. “As a filmmaker, I just think it’s the most exciting opportunity to kind of get perspective on today by looking through this lens of 50 years ago.”
“Dear Mr. Brody” is playing at SXSW Film 2021. Maitland says the film will be more widely available in the fall.