When I decided to move from the wee capital of Florida--you know, the capital that no one remembers--to the terrifyingly massive city that is Jacksonville, the first thing I thought about wasn’t a cool, local theater. All I saw was the Jacksonville skyline: pinpricks of light, fifty bridges, and a whole lot of buildings. As I’m beginning to learn, Jacksonville can be surprisingly quaint and low-key. Despite the overwhelming amount of miles that Jacksonville consumes, there are still those tiny areas that allow you to pretend Jacksonville isn’t so ginormous after all. Sun-Ray Cinema is one of those areas.
I'd passed Sun-Ray Cinema in Five Points billions of times, but never thought to actually go inside. One Monday earlier this year, I actually did. What a novel idea. The first thing I did was stop and stare at all the retro artwork that is reminiscent of the good ol’ days of film, when props were painstakingly handmade and CGI stood for “Computers Don’t Exist Yet.” (I know it doesn’t make sense. Just roll with it.)
At most movie theaters, you stand outside in the humidity and order your tickets from some stranger behind glass. The sort of glass that makes you feel as if you're visiting someone in prison. The ticket-dispenser-person shouts through the garbled speaker, and you have to slide your money through a weird hole in the glass. Not at Sun-Ray. I was able to purchase my ticket for Enough Said in the crisp, cool air-conditioning, and from none other than owner Tim Massett.
When I realized that the person selling me my ticket was the very owner and manager of Sun-Ray, I was a bit flabbergasted. Then asked if I could interview him, to which he responded with warm enthusiasm. And so, after the funny and unbearably awkward film, I sat on the couch (a movie theater with a couch??) with Tim and his wife Shana, the two of whom are an immensely delightful couple who answered all of my questions without judging me for my lack of film expertise.
Here are some things you should know about Sun-Ray:
The single-screen theater opened all the way back in 1927 (you know, way before any of us were born), but Tim and Shana only recently took charge in December of 2011. When I asked the rather obvious question of “Why choose the name ‘Sun-Ray’?” Shana told me that she wanted a name that hearkened to Florida, an entirely different scene from Minnesota, where the two had previously lived. 2011 wasn’t their first time in Jacksonville; Shana and Tim had lived once before in this metropolis, but believed they had exhausted all of their options. Fortunately for us movie-goers, they came back!
With this theater, Tim and Shana strive to give Jacksonvillians movies that they will enjoy, including limited-release films that don’t get picked up at the more commercialized theaters. They also love inviting people into their theater, from professors to directors. In October of 2013, director Richard Kelly came to Sun-Ray to provide a live commentary of his cult film Donnie Darko (2001). Earlier in 2014, Producer and Jacksonville native Aimee Schoof stopped by to talk about her film Blue Caprice, an official selection of the Sundance Film Festival. The two owners were very excited about this opportunity to bring Hollywood right here to Florida. Another thing Shana and Tim are very excited about is the recent addition of a second, 45-seat theater! This will be tremendously useful for Sun-Ray, allowing the cinema to show more than one film at a time and thereby gain more audience participants.
Shana and Tim love showing off Jacksonville, and are hoping to eventually expand to different neighborhoods of Jacksonville that don’t have easy access to a theater. They have their eyes set on Ponte Vedra and downtown Jacksonville, who would be very lucky to have such film authorities in their community. It is nice for a small-city gal like me to know that Jacksonville isn't just an insanely large kingdom made up of buildings and factories, but a normal city with people who just want to make Jacksonville better. Tim and Shana are two of those people. Their love for film and city already has a fan base that Somewhere in the City hopes gets even wider.
Show Sun-Ray Cinema some Facebook love here.
Photography by Morgan Burden