This paper compares experimentally measured and calculated dose-rate distributions for a novel 125I liquid-filled brachytherapy balloon applicator (the GliaSite RTS), designed for the treatment of malignant brain-tumor resection-cavity margins. This work is intended to comply with the American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM) Radiation Therapy Committee's recommendations [Med. Phys. 25, 2269-2270 (1998)] for dosimetric characterization of low-energy photon interstitial brachytherapy sources. Absolute low dose-rate radiochromic film (RCF) dosimetry measurements were performed in coronal planes about the applicator. The applicator was placed in a solid water phantom, machined to conform to the inflated applicator's surface. The results were used to validate the accuracy of Monte Carlo photon transport (MCPT) simulations and a point-source dose-kernel algorithm in predicting dose to water. The absolute activity of the 125I solution was determined by intercomparing a National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) 125I standard with a known mass of radiotherapy solution (Iotrex) in an identical vial and geometry. For the two films not in contact with applicator, the average agreement between RCF and MCPT (specified as the mean absolute deviation in successive 4 mm rings) was found to be within +/-5% at distances 0.2-25 mm from the film centers. For the two films touching the catheter, the mean agreement was +/-14.5% and 7.5% near the balloon surface but improving to 7.5% and 6% by 3.5 mm from the surface. These errors, as large as 20% in isolated pixels, are likely due to trim damage, 125I contamination, and poor conformance with the balloon. At larger distances where the radiation doses were very low, the observed discrepancies were significantly larger than expected. We hypothesize that they are due to a dose-rate dependence of the RCF response. A 1%-10% average difference between a simple one-dimensional path-length semiempirical dose-kernel model and the MCPT calculations was observed over clinically relevant distances.