John Richard // Bocce Ball Films

A film by Tommy Haines, Andrew Sherburne and John Richard

Saving Brinton follows the story of Michael Zahs and W. Frank Brinton—two men born a century apart, but bound together by 16 canisters of film and the gently rolling hills of Washington County, Iowa. 

Featuring treasured works by Georges Méliès and Thomas Edison, comedies and westerns, and 18th century travel films from Burma and Egypt, the collection was the lifeblood of Brinton’s barnstorming exhibitions, which introduced motion pictures to Eastern Iowa and much of the rural Midwest at the turn of the last century.

Using archival photos, hand-written notes, newspaper records, and present-day interviews, the film reveals the storied life of W. Frank Brinton, an off-beat wealthy futurist, world-traveler, inventor and pioneering motion picture exhibitor. A creative, successful, worldly man who chose to make his home in Washington, Iowa.

Martin Scorsese’s The Film Foundation reports that over 90% of films made before 1929 have been lost forever, meaning the Brinton collection—dating back to 1895—is rare indeed. But Zahs, a retired history teacher, tells us “history is half geography,” insisting the films must be kept in Iowa, not shipped off to New York or D.C.

Michael's ultimate goal is the repremiere of the film collection at The Ainsworth Opera House. But along the way film audiences get to know many of the other places that depict the history and way-of-life in Washington County: The Washington 175th Birthday, a one-room church, Indian burial grounds, a group of children that Michael takes on a bus tour, a seed-sack display in Ainsworth and one of Washington County's greatest assets: the fertile farmlands and natural beauty of Iowa's rolling hills.