Friday, June 07, 2024

BFF ’24: The Movie Man

“Recently, Dr. Gain-of-Function” Fauci admitted he had no idea where the recommendations for social distancing came from. He said: “it just sort of appeared.” That must boil the blood of small business owners like Keith Stata, whose local Highlands Cinemas in Kinmount, Ontario was not able to reopen any of its 70-seat screens until 2022, due to social distancing issues. It was touch-and-go as whether he could repair all the physical damage done during his involuntary closure, but as he says himself, “the show must go on” in Matt Finlin’s documentary, The Movie Man, which screens as part of the 2024 Brooklyn Film Festival and it also opens tonight at the Highlands Cinemas.

The Highlands Cinemas is quite an institution. Stata has amassed a genuine museum of movie memorabilia, including one of the Xenomorphs Stan Winston created for
Alien. It also stores hundreds of old analog projectors Stata salvaged from old theaters. Plus, the fortysome cats he adopted and his two dogs essentially have the run of the place.

It also shows films, which local residents appreciate, since every other theater in the Burnt River area had long since shuttered. Grudgingly, Stata made the studio-mandated switch-over to digital projection in 2012 to stay in the new release business. He also says something many theater owners are reluctant to admit: the quality of new films just hasn’t been as good lately, which has noticeably depressed ticket sales. The last twelve years certainly have not been easy for independent cinema owners—that much is certainly clear from
The Movie Man.

Not surprisingly, the Covid shutdown nearly killed off the Highlands. At the time, it prevented Stata from contracting his usual year-end maintenance. The cyclical nature of his business (it simply isn’t practical for Stata to open during the deep winter months) also apparently complicated his efforts to apply for Canada’s equivalent of the PPP money available for businesses.

The Movie Man is more significant than most documentaries about beloved theaters, such as Scala!!!. It is a real triumph-over-adversity story. It is also a tribute to a wonderfully eccentric and welcoming movie palace. Cineastes who ever find themselves in Kinmount have to stop in for a visit. Highly recommended, The Movie Man is quite a bit deeper than you might expect. It is available (ironically) for online screening at BFF through Sunday (6/9) and it opens today (6/7) at the Highlands Cinemas.