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'Saving Brinton' hits National Public Television; misses Oscars

GTNS photo by David Hotle



Retired history teacher Mike Zahs shows a copy of the DVD release of the documentary film made about his push to restore the Frank and Indiana Brinton films. The DVD sold out within  two hours when it was offered on Amazon.
GTNS photo by David Hotle Retired history teacher Mike Zahs shows a copy of the DVD release of the documentary film made about his push to restore the Frank and Indiana Brinton films. The DVD sold out within two hours when it was offered on Amazon.

While local historian Mike Zahs won’t be going on the red carpet of the Oscars during the 2019 presentation ceremony, the consolation prize is that the documentary film “Saving Brinton,” made about his quest to preserve a rare series of turn-of-the century films, is going to National Public Television.

Zahs confirmed that “Saving Brinton” had not made the top 15 list of documentary films to be considered for an Academy Award. Joking that the film had “come in 16th,” Zahs, a retired history professor and the subject of the film, said the performances of the movie are continuing. He recently attended the 119th showing at Halcyon House in Iowa. He announced that starting at 8 p.m. Jan. 7, 2019, the film is moving on to Iowa Public Television. Other showings will follow on National Public Television’s World channel. During the week of Jan. 7, Zahs said the film will be shown many times.

“The film guys have been working with National Public Television for some time,” Zahs said. “I’m not sure I want to watch it because it started with 250 hours of film, then the film guys got down to 87 minutes for the documentary and with Iowa Public Television it will be 52 minutes. They have taken out another third. That is going to be hard for me because I’m so used to it as it is.”

He said the move of the film to National Public Television would showcase Iowa and the Washington County area to the nation.

Zahs commented that Iowa City filmmakers Andrew Sherburne, Tommy Haines and John Richard had found it difficult to meet the requirements for the film to be shown on National Public Television. While the film has been cut down for television, Zahs hopes that seeing an abridged version will increase interest for people to see the entire version.

He said a two-disc DVD set of the movie has recently been released, including a commentary from Zahs and the three filmmakers. Since the release of the DVD, the stock on Amazon sold out inside two hours.

In September, it was learned the film could be considered for an Oscar. At the time Zahs had said he did not believe the filmmakers would be taking home the gold statue for Best Documentary.

“Saving Brinton went farther than any other documentary film made in Iowa has ever gone toward winning an Oscar, but we found out we didn’t make the top 15,” Zahs said. “We didn’t really expect to, but we were excited about it.”

He explained the competition for the award was intense, with close to 200 movies in the running. He said documentary movies about Fred Rogers’ (Mr. Rogers) life, Maya Angelou, and a host of documentaries from other countries all fell into the documentary category. He said there have been other recognitions, including Kickstarter.com picking “Saving Brinton” as its top film of the year. It also made the top 10 list of movies of the year selected by the Washington Post.

In addition to television broadcasts, Zahs hopes there will be a future for “Saving Brinton” with university documentary production classes. He said it is a wonderful example of a documentary film about films.

Zahs’ push to publicize the films taken by Frank and Indiana Brinton, with some as old as 1895, became the topic of “Saving Brinton” in 2017. He explained he had stumbled on the films about 25 years ago in a local basement and had worked since to restore them. He regularly holds film festivals in the area where he shows the films and discusses the historical significance of them. During the international tour with the films, Zahs has met many of his former students and has shown the film to thousands of people. He has also marveled about the positive response the film has gotten from Iowans,

“Iowa people and Washington County people have given tremendous support,” Zahs said, “To me it is so wonderful how much this community has taken this as their story and that is exactly what we wanted.”