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Saving Brinton 2017

Highly Recommended

Distributed by Passion River Films, 154 Mt. Bethel Rd., Warren, NJ 07059; 732-321-0711
Produced by Andrew Sherburne
Directed by Tommy Haines and Andrew Sherburne
DVD , color, 88 min.

Middle School - General Adult
Early Cinema, Film Preservation

Date Entered: 05/29/2018

Reviewed by Barbara J. Walter, Longmont Public Library, Longmont, CO

To me a collector is someone who is always searching for one more piece to complete a series or a type. I never thought I was specific enough in my focus to be called a collector. My grandpas were savers, my grandmas were not; I always saved.
--Michael Zahs, Saving Brinton.
In Saving Brinton, Iowa-based documentary filmmakers Tommy Haines and Andrew Sherburne (Pond Hockey, 2008; Gold Fever, 2014) artfully unspool the captivating story of the Brinton Collection and its champion, Michael Zahs.

Frank Brinton and his wife Indiana crisscrossed the American heartland from 1895 to 1909, entertaining audiences in rural communities with staged events, music, magic lantern shows and motion pictures. An eccentric with wide-ranging interests, Brinton traveled the world, managed a cinema theater in his hometown of Washington, Iowa, and designed and test-piloted early flying machines.

Michael Zahs, who grew up in Washington and taught history in the local schools, sees treasure where others see trash; when the Brinton estate is being cleared out of the executor’s basement in 1981, Zahs scoops up three pickup truckloads of film, slides, and projection equipment as well as posters, ledgers and other personal effects documenting the Brinton’s years on the road. Then he spends more than thirty years convincing others of the value of these artifacts from the earliest years of cinematic entertainment.

Saving Brinton opens just as the tide is turning for Zahs: the Brinton collection, which for decades has been such a huge part of his life (and occupied an entire room in his house) is moving to the Special Collections of the University of Iowa to be archived, preserved and made available to researchers and the public. And as the collection is sorted and cataloged, what emerges is breathtaking—a nearly pristine copy of French film pioneer Georges Méliès’ Triple Headed Lady, long thought to be lost to time.

Over the course of a year Haines and Sherburne follow Zahs as he confers with curators of the university’s Special Collections, meets with film historians astonished by the depth and breadth of materials in the Brinton Collection; visits the Nitrate Film Vaults of the Library of Congress in Washington DC; flies to Paris to observe restoration work on film from the collection, and to Bologna for a silent film festival, where the audience is treated to a screening of the newly-rediscovered Méliès film—one no audience has seen in over 100 years.

Top-notch in all technical aspects, Saving Brinton is great choice for academic libraries supporting film studies programs, especially for courses in early cinema and film preservation; it also deserves a place in public library collections for its delightfully uplifting portrait of Michael Zahs, whose dogged persistence and advocacy succeed in bringing the treasures of the Brinton Collection to light.

Chaptered in five-minute intervals.


  • Audience Award, Anchorage International Film Festival, 2017