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Brinton Extravaganza will celebrate silent film collection

A group rehearsal takes place inside the State Theatre. (Steffi Lee, CBS2/FOX28)
A group rehearsal takes place inside the State Theatre. (Steffi Lee, CBS2/FOX28)
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More than a century ago, the Midwest played a significant role in the film industry.

That history would've been lost if it wasn't for Michael Zahs' discovery of the Brinton film collection in an old basement in the eastern Iowa town of Washington.

"Mr. Brinton was based here in Washington, but he exposed much of the middle and western parts of the Untied States to the moving pictures," Zahs said.

W. Frank Brinton kept the State Theatre alive in the 1890s. He brought silent traveling entertainment to the big screen.

"I don't think we have the level of traveling entertainment today that they did 120 years ago," Zahs said.

But that enthusiasm will hopefully come back, Zahs says.

The Brinton Extravaganza on May 1 and 2 is to celebrate his legacy.

Zahs says his discovery only happened by chance. More than 30 years later, the tickets, ledgers, other documents and the collection of films are now preserved and restored at the University of Iowa Libraries.

"If somebody were to take their time to go through that, they could reconstruct some of the sequence of these shows," Greg Prickman, head of special collections at the University of Iowa Libraries, said. "We're not only saving the original material in its original formats. We're making sure we have the highest quality digital versions we can."

"We're just starting to see how very important Iowa is and was in all of this and that's good," Zahs said. "We need to toot our own horn because that's one of the things we do least well."

At the Extravaganza, there will be music, magic lantern slides and the films from the original projectors that will come to life on the big screen.

"It does my old heart good," Zahs said.

And to keep Brinton's story going, a film crew is also working on a documentary. It's been in works for several years and has been successful with the help of grants.

"I've seen this collection first hand over the last three years," Andrew Sherburne, producer of the documentary, said. "All the little tiny things, as well as some of those big 'wow' pieces are going to be incorporated in this (Extravaganza)."

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The Facebook event has more details on the show. You can buy tickets here.

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