Local film buff Keith Stata is optimistic for another successful season as Kinmount’s Highlands Cinemas reopens for its 44th year.

The theatre welcomed guests back May 5 with screenings of The Super Marios Bros. Movie and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. It was the culmination of weeks of work for Stata, who began preparing for the new season in March.

“It’s been 100-hour work weeks for me – it’s a frightening time in early spring. All the stock comes in and has to be put away, the theatres have to be cleaned, the equipment serviced, we have to clear everything up outside,” he said. “I do it because I love it, but it’s a lot of work.”

There was a point not so long ago where the future of Highlands Cinemas was in doubt. After being shuttered through the first two years of the pandemic, Stata reopened to much fanfare in 2022. It was that response, he said, that helped him to keep going.

“I was besieged with people telling me how much they enjoy the theatre and how glad they were to be back. There was one guy, around 25 or so, who stopped me on his way out. He said he’d been coming to the theatre since he was six years old and just loves the place. He couldn’t imagine going anywhere else to see a movie,” Stata said. “Those are the stories that make it all worth it.”

The five-screen 550-seat cinema is one of the most unique in the country. It features items and memorabilia from more than 450 theatres across the continent, which Stata showcases in his main foyer, halls, and an adjoining 4,000 sq. ft. museum.

He has life size replicas of vintage characters such as Pennywise the Clown, from 1990’s It, Alien from the 1979 movie of the same name, and the Pink Panther, from the 1963 classic. He also has an extensive collection of old-school projectors, including an early 1900s Lumiere from Paris, France, and a rare Motiograph F that he secured from a closing theatre in northern Ontario in the 1980s.

“I don’t look at projectors like other people do. You look at one of these machines and you see a rusty piece of metal. I look at them as memories,” Stata said. “Millions of people sat in the dark watching things like Bambi’s mother dying, or the chariot race in Ben-Hur. I cherish these things for what they are.”

There are some big releases slated for this year. Starting May 12, Book Club: The Next Chapter, starring Jane Fonda and Diane Keaton, will be a big hit among seniors, Stata said. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, the fifth movie in the franchise, debuts June 30, with Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One coming July 14.

“Those will all do really well. I’m thankful there’s some good movies coming out, because the industry has taken a big hit with the emergence of streaming,” Stata said.

He hopes to have all five screens open sometime next month. While he’s traditionally kept the cinema open until Thanksgiving, Stata said he may close early this year.

“Last September we were dead. If there aren’t any movies people will come out for, I’m not staying open. It’s just getting too expensive,” he said. “It costs me $40,000 just to open in the spring. The price of everything has gone up.”

For more information on shows, visit highlandscinemas.com. The theatre is open Friday to Monday, with ticket prices $10 for adults and seniors and $12 for adults 13 and up.