MY STORY BEGINS
IN A DARKENED ROOM
WITH FLICKERS OF
LIGHT AND SHADOW.
I grew up in small-town Indiana. My childhood was like many kids except for one thing. I was raised with a movie theater. It shaped my life. It inspired me to go on and be a photographer and filmmaker.
The post-art deco Brokaw Theatre was founded by Joe Brokaw in 1931. Community support was shown in the the "Silver Screen Special", a four page newspaper supplement.
Joe featured himself in an introductory film. This reel is on an old nitrate film and is extremely fragile and flammable. I will eventually have the film digitized by an archivist, but believe it to be a welcome message to the community.
The first movie that played was "The Smiling Lieutenant" and 603 adults and 63 children attended the opening day.
The theater prospered throughout the years in good times and bad.
My personal knowledge of the Brokaw Theatre begins when I was old enough to form childhood memories. By this time, my Uncle John Brokaw, a son of Joe, and my Aunt Lois, my mother's oldest sister, operated the movie house.
When I was little, I used to help clean the theater with my uncle. Pick up the popcorn boxes and sweep up the popcorn. He used to let me keep any change I found on the floor. Today, I'm sure he planted change for me to find, because nobody looses that much change at the movies.
Uncle John passed away when I was 8 and four years later, Aunt Lois followed. The theater was willed to my mother and my mom and dad took over operation. My father died the day after my 14th birthday. While it was a dark time, the theater was our family's key to getting though it all, financially and emotionally.
Eventually, I worked in the movie theater, but after high school, went off to study photography and filmmaking.
In 1990 the Brokaw was converted to two screens. I was the self-appointed keeper of the architecture. I hand painting the plasterwork on the ceiling. I have more appreciation for Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel.
The second screen brought much needed life to the old theater.
My mother passed the daily operations to my sister, Toni.
I didn't make it back to the theater much. I was off working for clients or trying to change the world with my own films. All the while, the Brokaw Theater was my inspiration. The films that I saw there, the magic that happened on the screen. I was amazed. I was moved by cinema and I still am. The smell of the popcorn. The joy of being taken somewhere that you've never been, even if it is only in your mind's eye at 24 frames per second. That's the magic.
Eventually, I would visit some of those places in our world, telling stories that I witnessed first hand and presenting them for your mind’s eye.
The Brokaw Theatre was sold in 2014, remodeled and new digital projection installed. May it live on for another 80 years or more.
Thanks for taking a few minutes to let me share part of my story. I’d love the opportunity to help you share yours.
We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.
— Jonathan Gottschall