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The Opening of The Movie Man at Highlands Cinema

May 5, 2024

The Movie Man Opens at Highlands Cinema, May 3, 2024

Friday May 3 was a very special day in Kinmount as The Movie Man opened at Highlands Cinema. Anyone who knows Keith Stata will see that his personality shines through in this remarkably authentic film, as much as it animates visitors’ experience at Highlands Cinema. It is fitting that when a full length film, playing internationally was made in the Kawarthas, that it was about Keith and Highlands Cinema. At the opening, it was clear how much Keith meant to everyone in the audience on this rainy evening. At many points during the show, as they watched what really goes on behind the scenes at their favourite theatre, audience members exclaimed: “Oh, Keith!” It is a one-of-a-kind reality film, about a one-of-a-kind theatre, operated by a one-of-a-kind enthusiast.

Keith grew up in the north end of Kinmount, and as a young man he exhibited deep love of film and cinema. For youth in the 1960s, before everyone had a television, many families enjoyed going to the theatre in communities like Minden, Fenelon Falls and Lindsay. Though Kinmount did not have a cinema, when he attended Fenelon Falls District High School (later Secondary School), he became a founder of the film club. As they created their own films, Keith dreamed of moving to Hollywood and becoming a film producer. Though his dreams of making it big in Hollywood did not come true, he would instead spend his life sharing his love of film and film making with countless visitors over the years.

Highlands Cinema grew out of the Stata home. After trying the Community Centre and Anglican Church Hall, he showed movies in his basement with a bed on the floor. Popcorn was served out of the kitchen, and visitors would chat with his mom as they left the theatre. Though film was his true love, Keith started a construction business, where he acquired the skills to expand his theatre. Starting in 1975, he took a leap of faith and began adding purpose built cinemas to his home. The first was complete by 1979 and would ultimately build five by 1996. Each one is unique.

By ordinary standards, Kinmount was not large enough to support a theatre. Who would have thought that a village of 300 people could support 5 screens with 550 seats!? Moreover, he was building a theatre in an era when theatres generally were in decline. With the advent of television, many families would stay at home and watch their favourite shows, leading many famous theatres, in larger centres to close. Despite everything that was running against him, Keith found a way to succeed. “If you are going to put a theatre, never mind five theatres, in a town of 300 people, then you are going to have to make it so people talk about it.”

Highlands Cinema is no ordinary theatre—The Movie Man hails it as “the most UNIQUE multiplex in the world.” As famous theatres closed across North America, Keith travelled and collected projectors, film reels, and the many artifacts that made the experience of going to a cinema what it was. He acquired parts of more than 450 defunct theatres. So going to Highlands Cinema is more than just going to a theatre, it’s a step back in time to see when theatres were a cultural mainstay. As director Matt Finlin captured, Keith’s favourite movie when he was young was The Time Machine, and Highlands Cinema in its own way is a time machine. Keith’s deep interest in films and how they have been made over the years is shared with each visitor at Highlands Cinema.

Initially, Keith was not taken seriously. As he shared his passion for film, movie distributors were put off by his unconventional approach, and wouldn’t allow him to show first-run movies. He succeeded, in spite of it all, and in the end they agreed to supply him with new releases. As the years passed, many of the conventional theatres closed, as Highlands Cinema persevered, even through the pandemic. His museum exhibits countless movie projectors, posters, and the unique experience it offers is as much of a draw as the films being shown. Ironically, the theatre that once struggled to be allowed to show first run movies has become an example of what it takes to survive. Today, the story of The Movie Man is held up by critics as the kind of thing that might help save an industry in peril.

The Movie Man opened at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival in February, but the authentic experience is to travel to Highlands Cinema, ascend the hill into the woods, and see it at the location that inspired the film. Matt Finlin “said he wanted to come on a weekend to shoot some film,” Keith explains. “He stayed for five years. My language got more colourful because I forgot he was here.” Many people would have attempted to project a polished image of their own life, but Keith is comfortable being himself. This film documents how he lovingly cares for his (now) 49 cats, as well as his adventures feeding the bears, raccoons and skunks that live near the theatre. Keith has invented a motion sensor activated siren to keep the animals away from visitors to the cinema, and fittingly it rang out just after The Movie Man ended.

When asked what it was like to see himself featured in a film, Keith replied, “Oh my God, I look old!” It is typical of the self-deprecating ways that have made him into such an important person in the community. More than a film enthusiast, Keith is also a keeper of his community’s heritage. For someone who loved film, and grew up wanting to make films, to be the star of the show is not something that Keith would have ever sought out. On the night it opened, Keith was there, doing all the work behind the scenes that it took to keep the theatre running, and showed no sign of believing that this very special moment for the Kawarthas was different than any other. As always, he was there talking to his patrons, making sure the projectors were working, cats were fed, and wildlife was behaving.

For Keith, caring for the cinema and the animals that live there is a way of life. “Keith is the theatre, and the theatre is Keith.” As larger communities across the continent have witnessed their theatres become obsolete and close, it would be hard to imagine Kinmount without its theatre. It has become much more than just a cinema. In one way or another it has touched the lives of just about everyone in the district. Who doesn’t have a memory of Highlands Cinema? The Movie Man adds one more memory to the contribution that Keith has made to local culture. It is unforgettable, and Highlands Cinema is the place to see it.

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