In 1970, Michael James Brody Jr., the 21-year-old heir to the Jelke Margarine fortune, went on television to announce that he would give away $25 million to anybody who asked him for money. The event took the country by storm — Brody essentially went viral, decades before social media was invented. He received thousands of letters, from everyone from young children to the elderly, asking him for money. The ill-conceived project quickly went awry when it became clear that Brody did not have nearly as much money to give away as he had suggested, and the entire saga was soon relegated to a weird trivia story.
But there is much more to the story than just Brody himself. “Dear Mr. Brody,” the new documentary from director Keith Maitland, explores the events in a new light. Watch the full trailer, an IndieWire exclusive, below.
Much like Maitland’s previous documentary, “Tower,” the documentary relies on recreations of historical events to discuss issues that still resonate today. The team behind the film unearthed over 12,000 unopened letters that were written to Brody asking for money. The film casts actors to read these real letters and tell the stories of the Americans whose financial needs led them to solicit money from a strange hippie millionaire. By shifting the focus from Brody himself to the people who wrote to him, the film opens the door for a larger conversation about the American economy in the early 1970s.
In his review from the 2020 Telluride Film Festival, IndieWire’s Eric Kohn wrote: “Brody was a hippie millionaire devoted to saving the world, but he was also a mentally ill drug addict with a Messiah complex. That conflict remains a messy tangle of questions 50 years later, but director Keith Maitland’s enlightening documentary ‘Dear Mr. Brody’ works through the paradox, suggesting that the tragedy of Brody’s fate is matched by the window into the American dream catalyzed by his offer.”
“Dear Mr. Brody” will received a limited theatrical run at the Quad in New York City and the Laemmle Monica in Los Angeles starting on March 4. It also streams on Discovery+ later this year.