This past weekend saw the first official public film screenings in Saudi Arabia since the cinema ban was lifted in December after 35 years. While the first multiplexes are still a way off, a makeshift moviehouse was sponsored at the state-run Culture and Arts Society in Jeddah, Reuters reported. Sony’s The Emoji Movie and DreamWorks Animation’s Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie were the first films to be shown.
Mamdouh Salim, whose Cinema 70 organized a week of screenings of the animated pics, told the news agency, “Until now, there is no infrastructure for movie theaters, so we are trying to take advantage of (alternative) venues to approximate the cinematic form.” They also had a red carpet and a popcorn machine. The Cinema 70 family movie festival is supported by the General Entertainment Authority.
Once the Kingdom is further equipped and the first films roll out in earnest there is expected to be wide uptake as folks seek entertainment opportunities outside the home — and rather than travel to Bahrain to catch a show.
The lifting of the cinema ban is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al-Saud’s move to diversify the economy and reduce the Kingdom’s dependence on oil. AMC, Vue International and others are already working on plans to get into the market that has a population of 70% under 30.
The Saudi government estimates that the cinema sector will contribute more than $24B to the economy by 2030, creating 30,000 permanent jobs and 130,000 temporary jobs. Questions of censorship and whether auditoriums will be divided for men and women are still being worked out.