There are several unique and unusual things about The Highlands Cinema in Kinmount Ontario. The five-screen multiplex theatre, oddly located in a very rural area north-east of Toronto, has the motto: “You remember not only the movie, but the theatre.” This certainly true, albeit not necessarily for the programming, which consists entirely of summer blockbusters (in the the tiny town of Kinmount, the business is seasonal and the place is only open from spring until fall to locals and cottagers.) For layout and overall presentation of ‘going to the movies,’ however, the Highlands is likely the most unique and pleasurable place that I’ve seen a movie in Canada.
The first unusual aspect is that there is a museum within the complex. Free to browse with the purchase of a movie ticket, and wedged in the corridors and nooks and crannies that connect the multiple auditoriums, the collection on display has thousands of items of movie memorabilia. Articles, objects and other esoterica, from posters to even the shipping canisters (notably an embossed 35mm can for 2001: A Space Odyssey.) Vintage projections systems (8mm, 16mm, up to gigantic 1940′s 35mm projectors) pleasantly clutter the museum space along with lobby cards, photos of famous cinemas (now long gone), movie props and clothing of each era of cinema from the 1900s until the 2000s.
The second is the genesis of this particular cinema. Owner/operator/collector Keith Strata originally turned his house into a small movie theatre. He then started adding screens and and expansion until he hit five individual screens. His house (he no longer lives there) is a fair bit back and away from the main road. This places the entire parking lot in the middle of a forest! There are these narrow one-way connecting roadways to little parking ‘bays’ that hold about a dozen cars each. It is a strange and surreal experience simply parking at the Highlands. One can only imagine walking out of the Blair Witch Project into the sparsely lit copses of trees and cars.
The third thing is that the Highlands Cinema like has the most theatre screens per capita in North America. The entire town of Kinmount (with its permanent population well under 500) could fit into the all the seats and still have plenty of empty ones. The cinema sees about 50,000 visitors per season, so that places attendance over one thousandfold the number of locals. And yet the majority f my visits I have sat in one of the cosy auditoriums with nary a single empty seat.
For someone who values aesthetics, it is fantastic how the memorabilia and design has spilled into the the auditoriums themselves. Each one is decorated differently. One is lined with classic posters – when one-sheets were akin to tapestries, much, much longer than they were wide. Another is charmingly faux-art deco – gargoyles and all. Yet another looks like a typical multiplex auditorium, giving the set of 5 auditoriums the feel of the breadth of cinema exhibition. Top quality seats, apparently salvaged from prestige movie and vaudeville houses that have been tragically demolished are used in a few of the individual auditoriums – with an interesting mechanical reclining feature, that is pretty cool for seats made at the turn of the century, and have an almost steam-punk retrofuture feel.
The museum stuff which lines all the corridors between the screens is the central attraction for me; it has to be one of the largest private collections in the world (I am not exaggerating here, the collection is immense.)
For anyone looking for a film going experience like that of a bygone age (classic candy: liquorish whips!) with no Toyota advertisements, previews or Reward Club promos – the feature just starts when the lights go down – then this is the place.
I recall seeing half a dozen movies there over the decade since I’ve been aware of the theatre: Michael Bay’ The Rock, Aardman’s Chicken Run, sci-fi spoof Men In Back, The Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum, as well as Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Yes, I remember the theatre more than the films, but because the venue is such a rich experience, each one of those blockbuster viewings I treasure.
[This has been the second entry in our Local Theatre Showcase, If there is a theater in your area you hold dear to your heart and would like to spotlight, contact email@example.com with details.]