/Keith Stata’s Highlands Cinemas the focus of new documentary
Keith Stata takes a moment to reflect in his Highlands Cinema, during filming of a documentary about Keith, his movie theatre, his movie memorabilia collection and business in the time of pandemic. /Photo by Scott Ramsay

Keith Stata’s Highlands Cinemas the focus of new documentary

By Jerelyn Craden

Keith Stata, the pied piper of movies and creator of the landmark Highlands Cinemas in Kinmount stars in a new documentary, The Movie Man. After celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2019, then shuttered due to COVID over the past two years, his beloved 18,500 square foot five-plex destination cinema and its 4,000 square foot museum is under threat. Now, with The Movie Man trailer just released and available for public viewing, we are reminded why its survival is important not only for movie goers, but also for the economies of Kinmount and its neighbouring communities. 

“I grew up going to the Highlands Cinemas,” said Matt Finlin, The Movie Man director whose family have been cottagers in the Highlands since he was a boy. “The kernel for the documentary started with me going there to film a little vignette on a theatre that inspired me to do what I do, as a creative project. When I was there, I discovered that it was much more than that. COVID has been a terrible thing for most people. Small businesses around the world have collapsed or been on the edge of collapse due to the pandemic. That really provided the stakes for the movie, outside of showcasing the unique theatre and its proprietor. What does the threat of losing this business mean for cinema in general and small towns that rely on a business such as Keith’s to draw people there?”

Andrea O’Shea, supervising producer, Ballinran Entertainment (in co-production with Finlin’s Door Knocker Media) said, “It’s hard enough for a huge conglomerate to stay open, let alone an independent cinema like Keith’s. I think this next season will be a part to this story. It’s either going to make or break Keith, in a sense. It could be the ending of the documentary. The next part of the story for Keith and for the film.”

Keith Stata in earlier days at the cinema. /Photo submitted by Ballinran Entertainment

Stata told of a cushion of money that he had counted on in order to re-open the cinema.

“In 1977, I legally severed a building lot off of this property with access to the highway. There was a condition that it had to be sold within two years,” Stata said. “One year later, it was sold and registered. I accepted $45,000 because I figured it would be $10,000 to put the driveway in. And, all of a sudden, the city said, we’re not going to give you an entrance. So, that $50,000 went down the toilet. The city is saying they changed the by-law and good luck to you. So, the lot’s no good anymore. That’s the $50,000 I counted on to get the theatre open that just went in the ditch.” 

Asked if re-opening was strictly a money issue, Stata said, “It doesn’t matter how many COVID mandates you remove, are people ready to go back and sit in a crowded theatre with other people? Are they ready?” 

Despite his scepticism, need for funding, and massive amount of work it will take to get the cineplex ready for business, Stata said he will try to open on May 6. 

Meanwhile, Finlin and O’Shea are shopping the trailer to broadcasters like Netflix and Crave. 

“The real goal,” O’Shea said, “is to show highlights of Keith’s story and the evolution of the cineplex and memorabilia museum and bring it to broadcasters and hopefully, one of them will pick it up to enable us to finish it.” 

Highlands Cinemas is home to Stata’s rare inventory of museum treasures./Photo submitted by Ballinran Entertainment

There is no lack of colour in the stories Stata tells about his rare inventory of museum treasures.

“In 1896,” he said, “Louis Lumiere and his brother, Auguste, showed the first motion picture in Paris. They met Siegmund Lubin who talked them into making a projector for them. That projector is here.”  

Without taking a breath, he continued. “The 1900 Edison’s to 1910, all the machines that Edison made, are here. Edison got out of the projector business because he said,” Stata laughed, “there is no money in movies.” Another: “The projector from Irving Berlin’s screening room, is here. The cutting boards that David Cronenberg used to do his early movies, are here.”

“Western Electric is AT&T,” Stata said. “In 1996, I got a call from New York City. They heard a rumour that I had the Western Electric universal basis, which is the first talking picture. They didn’t believe me, so they flew the guy up. We sold them one of their inventions from 1926 and they put it in their display.”

Stata is also the Prince of Cats. As caretaker and provider for 48 rescue cats, he buys over 5,000 cans of food a year and has built an extensive system of enclosed cat bridges, play areas, and cat apartments for their comfort and enjoyment. 

Highlands Cinemas from above. /Photo submitted by Ballinran Entertainment

“What people don’t know is,” Stata said, “it’s 40 hours a week looking after the cats. In the winter time, I burn eight bush cords of wood, I have 900 feet of paths that need to be kept clear and salted. I spend my time sorting through the collection and getting stuff done, and there’s maintenance. I had to finish a roof by myself, there’s a lot of work to be done to get open. We have to put the drapes back, a million things to do. Normally, there was help, now there’s no help, so I’m doing it by myself. I was working 99 hours a week until Christmas.”

“We take going to the theatre for granted,” O’Shea said. “We show up, we buy a ticket, we get our snacks and we sit down and enjoy a movie. But, when you see the parts in The Movie Man trailer when Keith had to deal with a mould issue and the time and energy it took to resolve it, and the seasonality of the theatre … we pay respect to the work he does there.”

Keith Stata changes the marquee outside of Highlands Cinemas in Kinmount, noting the closure of the movie theatre during the pandemic. /Photo by Matt Finlin

Finlin emphasized, “Right now, it’s about getting the funding we need to finish the film. It’s a larger story than just its value for the county. There is not a theatre like the Highlands Cinemas anywhere in the world, but what is similar is that many small business people have suffered through the pandemic and what effect its closing could have on the town and on Keith’s life. I think it’s a story we can all relate to even if we haven’t been to his theatre.” 

To apply for work at the Highlands Cinemas please send a resume to: keithstata@nexicom.net. Or call Keith at 705-488-2199.

Keith Stata in one of the theatres at Highlands Cinemas in Kinmount. /Photo submitted by Ballinran Entertainment