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Brinton Films Make Second Debut in 100 Years at World's Longest Running Movie Theater

Courtesy of UI Special Collections
A Cairo street scene depicted in one of the films in the Brinton collection.

The historic Brinton collection almost got lost to the sands of time, or, less poetically, the dirt of the landfill.

“Some of it was in boxes labeled ‘Brinton C-R-A-P.’ It seemed that the future was in doubt,” says Michael Zahs, the man who saved the collection.

Frank Brinton was an entertainer who jumped on the film craze early, acquiring his first moving pictures shortly after they started being made in 1895. He began touring with films and so-called 'magic lantern slides' at the turn of the century. Most of his collection, however, was banished to a basement in Washington, Iowa for most of the 20th century.

Now, Zahs, with the help of the Special Collections Department at the University of Iowa library, is showing some of those films for the first time in over a century at the historic State Theatre in Washington. That theater is the very same one where Frank Brinton entertained Iowans at the turn of the century, and it happens to be the longest running movie theater in the entire world.

Greg Prickman, head of Special Collections at the University of Iowa, says while copies of many of these films already existed, the Brinton collection is significant for the materials that came with the films.

"The fact that you have the films and records of the films along with the catalogs they used to purchase them from, the account book that lists out the towns that they were in and the date and the amount of money that they made, the tickets that were distributed at those shows--we have boxes full of tickets--the projectors, the cases that the material came in. This is the material history of this activity that so often just vanishes."

That load of material has allowed them to be even more authentic in its re-screening: they'll be using Brinton's original projector to display the film. 

"I like to have people realize that not only are these slides from here, the projector was made in Iowa. This is an Iowa story. I want people to realize how important we are in the whole projection and entertainment business," says Zahs.

One change? The film itself. And for good reason.

"We are projecting the original images on safety film. Not on the original cellulose nitrate film, because it was subject to explosion at any time. And there's all kinds of safety features on the projector to keep it from exploding. But it still did."

The Brinton Extravaganza will happen this Sunday at 2 PM and Monday at 6:30 PM. Tickets are available at icfilmscene.org.

Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa