A newly released documentary short, “The Letter Men,” debuted at Tribeca this week, and the powerful, compact story has an Island connection.
Mike Diaz, a 2007 graduate of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, says a high school film class laid the foundation for his career. Now a literary and talent manager working with actors, writers, and directors with the Los Angeles production company Citizen Skull, Diaz is a producer for “The Letter Men.”
“I did take a film class with — I think it was Mr. Sawyer — my senior year of high school, and that piqued my interest,” Diaz remembered in a phone call with The Times last week. “Going into college, I went for business, then switched to communication, and then found a film production club at Suffolk University.” Diaz also credits Sarah Whyte, his teacher at the West Tisbury School, who recently passed away. He says Whyte believed in him and “helped shape my confidence in spite of my dyslexia.”
The story behind “The Letter Men” is one for the LGBTQ history books, for all history books. The film’s director, Andy Vallentine, whom Diaz represents, was scrolling through the internet and discovered an improbable love story: Two men in a gay love affair interrupted by World War II. The couple, Gordon Bowsher and Gilbert Bradley, wrote hundreds of detailed love letters back and forth while they were young men, signing them only with a “G.” Vallentine reached out to the historian who found the letters, and traveled to a tiny English town to meet with him. His passion for the project won out, and the historian agreed to give him access to the letters.
Vallentine writes on the film’s website, “Storytelling is a powerful tool that can change hearts and minds, and I am conscious of my duty to Gilbert and Gordon and all LGBTQ people who may recognize something of themselves in this story.”
For Diaz, “The Letter Men” is both timely and powerful. “They wrote these letters for only three or four years, it was a relatively short period of time when they were younger, and then they went their separate ways,” Diaz explains. “I just feel like it’s an important message to show the LGBTQ community, to show representation of how things once were. It’s crazy to think they’d burn the letters because they didn’t want to be outed.”
The premiere at Tribeca will give “The Letter Men” the buzz it could need to get the eight-minute film made into a feature or a limited series, Diaz explained. His client is also in post-production on a film called “The Mattachine Family,” co-written by Vallentine and his husband Danny. The latter film, with Zach Braff as executive producer, provides insight into the challenges same-sex couples face when they confront what expanding their family means to them. The couple also worked together on “The Letter Men” script.
The short film is cinematically beautiful, opening with a scene with Gilbert and Gordon on a sailboat. They make an almost immediate connection when they first glance at each other, and the film follows the two lovers as Gilbert reads Gordon’s letters in the trenches of World War II while Gordon is hidden away in a bomb shelter. All of the lines in the film are taken from Gordon’s letters to Gilbert, which he kept until his death in 2007. Gordon wrote almost prophetically, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all our letters could be published in the future in a more enlightened time … then all of the world could see how in love we are.”
“The Letter Men” lets us in on a beautiful love story, one that resonates with everyone — straight, queer, transgender, all human beings who long to feel a deep, loving connection.
For Diaz, who moved to California in 2012, one thing led to another as it often does, and now he, his wife Dawn, and their daughter Capri are making plans to come back to the Island to visit friends and family. They have another baby on the way.
Talking to Island folks like filmmaker Peter Farelly and agent and media exec Nick Stevens, as well as producer Jon Mone, gave Diaz a leg up when he made the move to LA.
“I landed a job at a management company as an intern, then as an assistant at a talent agency,” Diaz remembers. “I thought, ‘I don’t want to be an agent,’ but this management thing seems kind of cool.”
He says he loves helping writers and directors bring their projects to fruition. Vallentine was one of the first directors he signed, Diaz said. He explained that the two films he’s worked on with Andy and Danny come down to the fact that we’re all the same, we all ultimately want the same things.
“Somehow because of hatred in the world it gets skewed sometimes, unfortunately,” Diaz said. “It is always important to keep that message at the forefront as long as we need to … as long as there is hatred in the world, we need to bring love into the world.”