My childhood memories and Saudi movie theaters
I WAS about 8 years old when I saw my first American movie. It was in the mid-1960s at an Aramco movie theater in the city of Dhahran. From that day I was in love with the cinema and the American movies. Then, my visits to Aramco movie theaters continued.
I used to got there once a month with some of my young relatives. Sometimes we would go to Abqiaq and sometimes we would go to Dhahran. An older cousin of mine who worked for Aramco would take me and the other kids to see the movies. He always demanded that we behave and get good grades at school and then the prize for the good behavior would be a trip to Aramco movie theater. We normally took Aramco buses from Al-Ahsa to Dhahran.
In addition to the movie, we would be eating at Aramco cafeteria. Our favorite food was the cheeseburger. Also if we behaved while in Dhahran, then we would be taken to watch Aramco employees play bowling, baseball and many other games. The only game I didn’t understand and didn’t like at the time was seeing some Americans chase a very small ball which I couldn’t even see and they kept hitting it with an iron rod.
Years later I regretted not learning or loving this game. It never crossed my mind that someone called Tiger Woods will be making millions of dollars just hitting this small ball.
Aramco movie theaters that I used to go to were at Al-Munira camp in Dhahran and Al-Farhah camp in Abqaiq. They were open theaters and it was like if you were in a drive-in movie theater, but, you were sitting down. The cost was 18 hallalah (less than one riyal).
When we watched movies, we could hear the sounds coming from the plants at Aramco oil installations and we could even smell the burning torches. In Abqaiq, the nights were always bright. The so-called (gas Abqiaq) used to be the biggest gas burner in the world. Aramco at that time used to burn unnecessary excess gas. Every child I knew and lived in the Eastern Province had the same great experience with the movie theaters at Aramco compounds.
Movie theaters were not only at Aramco compounds. In Riyadh, movie theaters were available at the football clubs. Al-Hilal, Al-Nasser and Al-Shabab football clubs all had movie theaters for their fans. These theaters were also open-air theaters. They were located in the main administrative buildings of these football clubs. The movies in Riyadh were all Arabic movies from Egypt and Lebanon. And it was an interesting time for many youths. But, where do my family and I go these days to watch the latest Hollywood movies?
We simply drive from Alkhobar and cross King Fahad Causeway to Bahrain. It is only 40 kilometer from my home to Bahrain Malls where the theaters are located. So, the question is: Why do I have to travel to another Gulf state just to see a movie? I can’t go to Saudi Aramco to see a movie like I used to when I was a child. I am not an Aramco employee.
Saudi Aramco still has the movie theaters. But, the movies at the football clubs in Riyadh and Jeddah were closed long time ago and they became part of the Saudi sports history. Big cities with very large populations need the movie theaters as a form of entertainment. Movie theaters are part of the tourism industry and can employ many of the Saudi youth. In the past some of the football clubs used the fund from the moviegoers for their sports activities. The money was a good source of income. And these days, the same sports clubs can have modern day movie theaters on their premises. This way, they can generate money for their sports activities without putting any burden on the national budget. In Saudi Arabia, sports clubs get their annual budgets from the government. And if the sports clubs are allowed to have movie theaters on their premises, then they will be able to increase their income and improve the facilities. Also the movies will take out many of the youth from the streets and will have them in a very controlled atmosphere with this kind of innocent entertainment.
Movie theaters can be a very important cornerstone for the domestic tourism industry. Tourism can be the biggest job market for the Saudi youth.
We understand that there are movies and films that are not suitable for our culture, and this is normal for many countries even in the West. There are many movies that created some controversial remarks and reactions, but we have to understand that movies are like books. Not everyone will agree with the content of the book. And if a movie has any offensive acts to either the religion, culture or has indecent clips then it is either edited or not shown at all. There are always good adventure movies which the old and young enjoy. The summer holiday is now over and it is the start of the school in the Kingdom. It is very important especially for the youth to have some entertainment.
The time spent in the movie theater by the young Saudis is good to keep many of them from the many bad habits they practice such as the joy driving which endangers their lives. At this day and age, the Internet and the modern day technological gadgets have left nothing to be hidden. Young men and women all over the world have seen everything on the Internet. Saudis are the biggest users of the Internet in the area. A movie theater is safer than some of the contents on the Internet. And finally we have the popcorn. We are just waiting for movies.
— This article is exclusive to Arab News
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