As Sun Pictures celebrates a century of cinema under the stars, there’s every sign that the show will go on.

Story Therese Hall   Photo Brett Barnett

If a town has a heart, Broome’s would surely be Sun Pictures. Situated in Chinatown, the Sun’s imposing corrugated iron structure stands as a reminder of all that has gone before in the multicultural pearling outpost on Western Australia’s Kimberley coast. But it’s no museum. The cinema – the oldest operating outdoor cinema in the world – is as much a beating cultural hub as it was when it opened its doors in 1916. 

In August 2017, Kimberley film buffs gathered to commemorate the cinema’s centenary. In the afternoon, eight pavement plaques were unveiled in front of the theatre, celebrating the people behind its long and colourful history. Known locally as the Sun Pictures ‘walk of fame’, they record the theatre’s seven owners and one long-term manager, from Yejiro Yamasaki, who opened a Japanese playhouse on the site in 1903 to its current owner Marisa Ferraz. Cinema aficionados later attended a red-carpet event – complete with popcorn served upon entry – to remember the central role that the Sun has played in the region. “It’s always been a meeting place for the people of Broome,” Marisa says. 

Marisa is a font of knowledge about the cinema’s history, which has spanned cyclones, floods and two world wars. Not only has she owned it for almost 30 years, she’s made it her business to research its past and hand the knowledge on to contemporary devotees. In the roofed front half of the cinema, Marisa has set up a chronological display of reel projectors, from a 1926 silent film projector to a late 20th century Christie machine. These tell some of the story of how films have been shown since the opening night of Sun Picture Gardens on December 9, 1916, when an obscure British silent movie Kissing Cup was screened. The foyer features framed posters of Hollywood film stars and black-and-white photos depicting the cinema ‘afloat’, when a king tide inundated its Carnarvon Street frontage. 

This story excerpt is from Issue #116

Outback Magazine: December/January 2018