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Monday, February 26, 2024
Arts: NOTL filmmaker’s ‘The Movie Man’ is a love letter to cinemas
Matt Finlin wants The Movie Man, viewers to take away a regained reverence for watching a movie. JULIA SACCO

Matt Finlin can still remember the first film he saw at Highlands Cinemas when he was only 11 years old.

” ‘Terminator 2.’ And I was probably much too young for it,” Finlin joked. 

Since then, he has seen countless movies at the five-theatre complex near the Kawartha Lakes, but will never forget his first screening. 

It was the passion Highlands’ owner Keith Stata has for the art of movie-making that inspired Finlin to direct his own film about this cinema: “The Movie Man,” premiering at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival from Feb. 7 to 17.

Working alongside executive producer Ed Robertson of the Barenaked Ladies and composer Kevin Drew of Broken Social Scene, Finlin’s documentary shows Strata’s dedication to keeping Highlands Cinemas alive throughout the pandemic “against all odds.”

In an interview with The Lake Report, Finlin detailled how Stata’s kitschy approach to movie-watching stuck with him from the first time he walked into the cinema. 

He was camping with his family when his uncle decided they would go to the movies one night — which led them to Highlands Cinemas.

“You walk into this door and it kind of opened into another world,” he said. “It’s sort of like ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.’ The entire place is filled with movie memorabilia.”

It was a “magical place” for Finlin going into his adult years, so when he began a new creative project, the idea to film something there came naturally.

Aside from being a love letter to Highlands Cinemas and Keith Stata, “The Movie Man” illuminates just how important it is to actually get out there and see a movie in a theatre — specifically, an independent theatre. 

It’s something that cinephiles know to be true: where you take in a film can add or take away from the enjoyment of it. 

“I think people can sit at home and watch movies but they’re looking at their phones half of the time. We used to have this reverence for going to the movies,” Finlin said. 

For those who still regularly go to the cinema, Finlin urges them to branch out and check out their independent theatres in the area.

“Cineplex doesn’t have a popcorn-eating bear that can show up in the parking lot. It doesn’t have 45-plus cats that are sort of meandering around outside,” Finlin said. “Cineplex doesn’t have a museum that would put the Academy’s museum in Los Angeles to shame.”

He explained that with Highland Cinemas, “Before you even get to sit down in the seats, you’re on this magical journey of movie history.”

Residents of Niagara-on-the-Lake are perhaps able to relate to an experience like this more than others, Finlin said. 

The Shaw Festival and its theatres likely experience some of the shame and hardships as movie theatres do in that the reverence for live performances has dwindled over the years, he said.

“People (of NOTL) can relate to taking pride in something that’s in your town that provides people with joy, that people dedicate a lot of their time to,” Finlin added.

For those who may not ever make it to Highlands Cinemas to see it for themselves, the message Finlin hopes people take with them is simple: go to the movies. 

“Make the most out of the time that you have, go to the movies, take your kids to the movies. Turn off your phone and escape for two hours,” Finlin said. “The medium of the experience in the theatre is important and should be revered.”

Finlin said he is hoping to organize a screening of “The Movie Man” in NOTL this coming spring or summer. Details to come.

juliasacco@niagaranow.com

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