Mike Zahs discovers reels of silent films belonging to William Franklin Brinton in his Washington, Iowa, farmhouse. The discovery was turned into the documentary, "Saving Brinton". 


Here’s a cheerfully quirky movie about a cheerful, quirky Iowan.

Mike Zahs is the central character — and a character he is — in “Saving Brinton,” a marvelous documentary about saving the past and why it’s important to remember it.

Zahs, who lives in Washington, Iowa — just a hop, skip and a jump from the Quad-Cities — found a bunch of stuff in a farmhouse. That stuff included show reels of short silent films on old nitrate reels that belonged to William Franklin Brinton.

And Zahs also discovered the handwritten journals of Brinton’s travels as the first “movie manager,” in a sense, who brought movies for the first time to untold numbers of audiences. The movies include film of Teddy Roosevelt and even lost footage Georges Méliés, an early special-effects pioneer (film aficionados are familiar with his silent “A Trip to the Moon.”)

Now, Zahs puts on his own shows. Although not all of them involve movies, he does present a show similar to what Brinton must have presented. He brings back the magic that audiences must have felt when they saw moving images for the first time.

Zahs, a retired teacher who continues to educate with his every breath, finds the magic in what other people have thrown away or forgotten — some animals, some inanimate objects. He emphasizes saving instead of throwing, and reminds his audiences to slow down and consider the past.

There is something gentle and kindly about Zahs’s love for these early films and, indeed, for all the objects he has collected over the years. And it’s clear that he loves his audiences, too: Watch the way he encourages the children who listen to him, and how he jokes with the adults around him.

Zahs spreads love and the love of history with everyone he meets. Watch his eyes light up when he describes some of the now-defunct objects in his collection. Not surprisingly, the eyes of those in his audience light up, too, with affection and wonder.

What better place to have this shown than on a big screen in a history/science museum? The environment of the Putnam enhances the experience of seeing Zahs and his beloved collections in a story that only can be told through his beloved medium of film.

What’s more, you will get to meet Zahs himself, as well as one of the filmmakers who did such an incredible job telling his story, in this one-night-only event from 6:30-9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 26, as they present their Barnstorming Brinton Iowa Tour.

Tickets for the movie and the question-and-answer session afterward are $8.50. To purchase tickets, visit

For more information, contact Amanda Crosby at or call 563-336-7291.