Haliburton County’s movie man is going international after a documentary detailing the life of Keith Stata and the formation and growth of Highlands Cinemas was picked up by the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

Director Matt Finlin told The Highlander last week his one-hour, 15-minute film The Movie Man will have its worldwide premiere Feb. 12 in California, with a second screening Feb. 15. It will be the first time the flick is available for public viewing, following a private screening at the Kinmount theatre last September.

It’s the culmination of five years of work for Finlin, who was inspired to tell Stata’s story after remembering how he, as an 11-year-old boy, visited Highlands Cinemas and was enamoured with what he saw. The experience laid the foundation for a career in the movie industry, with Finlin now a partner in Toronto-based Door Knocker Media.

“It’s almost overwhelming seeing everything come together and now having The Movie Man featured at a prestigious film festival. You make these things and put them out into the world in the hope that someone is going to recognize and appreciate them – we were one of more than 2,000 submissions for this festival, but made the cut,” Finlin said. “It’s a testament of Keith and this wonderful place he’s built.”

Finlin said he applied to dozens of festivals and was invited to appear at several, though admitted he was holding off for “a big fish.” Now, he’s excited that people who likely have no idea where Kinmount is will get to learn all about the community and one of its greatest champions.

He’ll be attending the festival alongside musician Kevin Drew, of Broken Social Scene fame. Drew provided all the music for The Movie Man. Stata said he isn’t planning to attend, noting he still works 60-hour weeks at the cinema getting ready for the new season.

“I do know someone who will be there, though. A kid who used to work for me years ago now has a really cool job in Silicon Valley in California. He lives in Santa Barbara, so is going to go to the screening and check it out,” Stata said.

The movie chronicles Stata’s life after founding Highlands Cinemas in 1979. What started out as a 59-seat single theatre has expanded to five screens that can accommodate 550 people. It’s jam packed with unique stories detailing how Stata secured the thousands of pieces of memorabilia displayed throughout the 4,000 sq. ft. site.

Sharing some of the stories, Stata recalls how word of his cinema has spread over the years.

He spoke to a local who, while travelling to France, struck up conversation with a fellow passenger. After telling how she lived in the small town of Kinmount, the other lady smiled and said “oh, there’s a cool theatre there, no?” Then there was the County resident who, while travelling through India, stopped at a bar in Mumbai only to find a piece about Highlands Cinemas on the TV.

“I remember getting a call a few years ago from Detroit Edison power company (now DTE Energy) who wanted me to go down there and take a projection booth out of one of their towers. I asked where they got my name, they said someone in Sweden. I don’t even know anyone in Sweden,” Stata said.

Referencing some of his favourite collectibles and memorabilia, Stata told how he secured a first-edition Lumiere projector several years ago.

“I was bidding on a unit on eBay and got a call from someone in California who saw that I was bidding. He said he had a projector there, it was in a warehouse under an overpass that collapsed during an earthquake. He insisted the projector was good and sent some photos… what had happened was, the Lumiere brothers showed their first motion picture in Paris in 1886 – people from the U.S. had travelled to see this and wanted the brothers to make them some projectors, which they did in 1897. This was one of those machines,” Stata said, noting he still has the original.

Finlin said he shared the documentary with famed Hollywood actor Martin Sheen late last year, who enjoyed it so much he’s planning a trip to Kinmount this summer.

“He watched the film… and said the academy museum in Los Angeles has got nothing on Keith’s theatre, so that’s high praise. He said Keith was ‘eloquently vulgar’,” Finlin said with a laugh.

He’s hoping The Movie Man is picked up by a distributor for a full cinematic release this year. It’s already been confirmed the documentary will be aired at Highlands Cinemas through the summer.

“It’s been a fun ride. I’ve had the time of my life building this place. I’m sure people will enjoy the movie and hopefully get a laugh out of it at my expense,” Stata said.