'Dear Mr. Brody'

“Dear Mr. Brody,” screening for free as part of this year’s Film Fest Tucson, looks at the lives of people now who wrote letters to millionaire Michael Brody Jr. in the early 1970s after he said he would give away his fortune to those in need.

Leonard Bernstein and wild mustangs. The Beatles in India and the sci-fi classic “Alien” on stage.

While COVID continues to dominate the headlines in 2021, Film Fest Tucson is offering a bit of an escape through cinema, Oct. 14-17, as it returns this year with a hybrid schedule of streaming and in-person screenings.

Festival founder Herb Stratford said the fest has between 30 and 35 films total this year, with six of those films slated to be shown for free at two outdoor venues: the lawn of the Children’s Museum Tucson downtown and the newly built LED wall at Main Gate Square, behind The Graduate Tucson hotel.

“The LED wall is super awesome,” Stratford said. “It is incredibly crisp and bright. It allows us to expand our footprint. We can be closer to the students, too.”

After canceling the film festival altogether in 2020, the initial plan in 2021 was to go completely online to keep the event’s mostly volunteer staff safe from COVID and because film festivals take a lot of effort and money and there are no certainties during a pandemic year.

When the opportunity to use Main Gate Square’s outdoor LED wall presented itself, Stratford reconsidered.

“All of a sudden we had two outdoor venues which was really great,” he said. “This is our fifth year and not quite the way we wanted to celebrate. But we are so excited about these films we came up with, we didn’t want to wait.”

The brunt of the films, including full-length narrative features and documentaries, and a series of shorts, will be available to stream for a single $25 pass through the festival website, filmfesttucson.org.

Some of the festival’s top picks will be in person.

Bernstein’s Wall,” to be shown Friday, Oct. 15, at Main Gate Square, examines the life and career of famed American conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein.

The documentary made its world debut at the Tribeca Film Festival in June.

“It is a big whoop-de-doo because it is a crazy good movie,” Stratford said. “I thought I knew a little bit about Bernstein. I didn’t know much.”

The documentary, “The Art of Making It,” screening at Main Gate on Saturday, looks at how a new generation of artists are navigating the tumultuous industry built around art.

In “Dear Mr. Brody,” also screening at Main Gate on Friday, director Keith Maitland tracks down folks from across the country who sent letters to millionaire Michael Brody Jr. in 1970, after Brody announced he would give away his $25-million inheritance to people who needed it.

“People wrote him saying they were behind on rent or they needed a new pair of teeth,” Stratford said. “He ended up never giving any of the money away. But his family kept the letters.”

Stratford said the move to include outdoor venues for in-person screenings was a good solution for the festival, and will probably continue beyond the pandemic.

“Eventually, I would like to see our festival have three or four outdoor venues,” Stratford said. “Arizona in October is really nice. We should be taking advantage of that as much as we can.”

For a full rundown of films and screening times for this year’s festival, visit filmfesttucson.org.

#ThisIsTucson is member-supported. Your contribution helps our team bring you stories that keep you connected to the community. Become a member today.