DOXA: Visit the World’s Best Cinema with THE MOVIE MAN

“If I wanted to be successful, I never would’ve stayed in Kinmount and built a theatre…”

It seems beyond belief that such a hardcore cineaste such as myself could’ve gone his entire life without at least hearing about Keith Stata and his 5-screen independent multiplex, the Highland Cinema. This doesn’t sound all that remarkable until you realize that the theatre also doubles as a movie museum bursting at the drywall with memorabilia and is located practically in the middle of the woods! Director Matt Finlin paints a loving portrait of this eccentric entrepreneur in The Movie Man.

Born and raised in Kinmount, Keith developed a love for movies at an early age, joining the legions of his contemporaries making short 8mm and 16mm movies with his friends. But upon realizing that a filmmaking career wasn’t in the cards, Keith pivoted to a career in construction which unexpectedly led to the building of what would become the Highland Cinema in the late 1970s. Finding success with one screen, Keith saw fit to add another in the 1980s, and then another and then another until there were five screens exhibiting first-run films by the time of Y2K. 

The construction of these new additions to the complex resulted in ample hallway space which Keith saw fit to fill with nearly every piece of movie memorabilia he could lay his hands on. Posters, props, projectors, pictures of stars; all of it making a charmingly unique moviegoing experience unlike any in the world.

But it’s far from easy keeping a picture palace like this alive. The challenges are legion, from supply costs, a costly switch to digital projection, rapid staff turnover (they keep graduating and leaving town!), popcorn-munching wildlife, and if all that weren’t enough, a worldwide pandemic that shuts the whole operation down for two seasons. With the cards seemingly stacked firmly against him, it would take a miracle for Keith to re-open the Highland cinema.

Spoiler alert: Keith did manage to re-open for the 2022 season with a screening of that year’s box office hit Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The interviewees in this segment all enthusiastically gush about what a gem the Highland is. You don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone, even if only just temporarily.

Finlin efficiently condenses what appears to be nearly five years of following Keith into a tidy 90 minutes. There are a couple clunky time jumps that may discombobulate, but nothing too egregious. The focus is kept firmly on Ken where it belongs as the camera follows him take on the Herculean task of keeping this unique establishment running. With no family or even close friends to help him (his business partner is noticeably absent during the offseason), it’s all the more remarkable that he shoulders so much of the burden alone, especially well into his 70s. 

It should be noted that Keith does seem to bring some of this extra burden upon himself in the form of 48 wild cats that he houses on the property. He keeps them healthy and (mostly) happy with custom-built lodgings and tons upon tons of cat food. A noticeable blurb on the marquee even thanks patrons for their cat-specific donations. Surely at least a few of these furry friends would be suitable for adoption?

Capably produced and tenderly told, Finlin’s visual chronicle of a man and his movie madness that he shares with the world is the best commercial the Highland could never buy and a hundred local interest news pieces could never hope to replicate. It’s a timely testament to the magic of moviegoing and a touching tribute to independent cinemas everywhere.  First see the doc, then visit the theatre, even if only for reportedly the best popcorn in the world. The local wildlife certainly enjoys it. 


The movie screens as a part of DOXA on Tues May 7, 6:30pm @ the Pacific Cinematheque

Interested in visiting the Highland Cinema? Visit them at highlandscinemas.com 

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