By Chad Ingram
I don’t remember the first time I went to Highlands Cinemas. It would have been in the 1980s. I would have gone as a kid with my family during a visit to the cottage. It was likely to see a Ghostbusters or Peewee Herman movie, or something of the sort. The memory is fuzzy and inexact and comes in little snapshots, small flashes from a now-long-ago childhood.
I wouldn’t go again until I moved to Haliburton County in my mid-20s. Returning to the theatre, there was still something familiar about it. Probably because the icon that Keith Stata has built on a hillside on the outskirts of Kinmount is so singularly unique, not unlike the man himself.
The theatre had of course grown since I was there as a kid. As was mentioned in a feature on Highlands Cinemas’ 40th anniversary last week, over time, Keith added to the original theatre, creating what is today a five-screen multiplex attached to his home.
Of course, going to the movies in Kinmount is about much more than the movies themselves. It’s about the whole experience. Keith has amassed a gargantuan collection of memorabilia and antiques, from posters to props to film projectors, that form the theatre’s museum. This collection, paying tribute to a century of Hollywood film, coupled with the decor and smell of popcorn, create a vintage atmosphere full of nostalgia. In a world of sterile, corporate cineplexes, Highlands Cinemas is a glimpse of the gilded sheen that was once such a central part of the movie-going experience.
“When cinemas were first designed,” Stata said in the story, “theatres were really the cathedrals of the motion picture, decorated with gold, marble, velvet. The guy who didn’t have very much could go to this cathedral, this grandeur and watch this flicker on the screen, and hopefully identify with something he saw, and leave with a good memory.”
That essence is still alive in Kinmount, and certainly generations of people over the past 40 years have formed great memories there. While other smaller, independent theatres in places like Minden, Haliburton Village and Fenelon Falls have faded to black, Keith soldiers on.
There was a point a few years ago where the technological evolution of the film industry presented him with a stark choice – spend hundreds of thousands of dollars converting his projectors to digital format, or close. Luckily for us, Keith chose the former, and we can still look forward to that marquee coming alive and those doors opening each spring.
Movies, like books or music or any other form of art, are escapism. That’s their magic. They transport us from what can be the doldrums of daily existence to somewhere else. And that’s where a trip to Highlands Cinemas takes you. You’re no longer on a hillside in a sleepy little town in Ontario cottage country. You are somewhere else.
Congratulations, Keith, on 40 years in business. And thank you for taking us all to the movies.