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Reel history in digital format

Reels from a reel to reel movie projector. The reels should be part of a new exhibit on the Morris Theatre at the Stevens County Historical Society Museum. Rae Yost/Stevens County Times

Carol Wilcox told a group of filmakers from the University of Minnesota Morris that the first movie she saw in the Morris Theatre may have been "Gone With the Wind." She wasn't certain but she knew it could have been that movie released nationwide on Jan. 17, 1940.

Wilcox said in a roughly 15-minute movie made by UMM students in Barbara Burke's CMR digital production class that she does clearly recall the first time she walked into the Morris Theatre when it opened in 1940.

"It was like walking to a palace," Wilcox said of the red curtains and other bold features of the theater.

Memories and thoughts from Wilcox and other Morris residents are contained in the documentary movie which is part of a new exhibit at the Stevens County Historical Society Museum. The exhibit called "The Past, Present and Future of the Morris Theatre" opens with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 28. The exhibit is part of a project that received money from the Institute for Advanced Study.

Hannah King, the curator at the museum, said while Morris has had a theater of some sort for nearly 100 years, the exhibit focuses on the Morris Theatre. The theater has evolved from private ownership to a cooperative with members who fund the operation and any improvements, along with proceeds from ticket and concession sales and other donations.

"The cooperative here is an interesting way to continue (the theater tradtition)," King said.

Burke said the exhibit movie project was appropriate for her students in several ways, including the connection between the UMM campus and the community.

"This is not the first time that students have worked in partnership with the museum," Burke said. "In every instance (the projects have) been challenging but rewarding," Burke said.

A Korean War veteran project and project on the land and its people are just two prior collaborations between the UMM students and the museum, said Burke.

Some of the challenges with the recent theater project included coordinating interviews and the international coordination of film clips and material.

"We were all assigned to three different groups and we did different interviews," Andrea Wathanaphone


The three segments were broken into time segments from 1940 to 2017.

When interviews were completed the three separate segments of the movie needed to be edited into one final segment.

Michael Small described the editing process as very detailed and precise. "...we would do litte things here and there."

Although Wes McDonell said he's happy with the final product, he'd make some changes if the class did the project over. "I'd maybe come up with more interview questions," which he said would provide more material for the movie.

Burke said the movie represents about 50 hours of work each for 12 to 16 people in the class.

The movie is part of the exhibit but will also be part of the museum's archives.

Brandon Barras said he did think of the lasting place the project would have in the museum. Barras said stories such as those about the old reel to reel movie projector are now preserved. In the future, "people aren't going to be around to tell those stories," Barras said.