The rise, fall and rebirth of Saudi cinema

Updated 13 December 2017

The rise, fall and rebirth of Saudi cinema

JEDDAH: Cinemas existed in Saudi Arabia’s major cities about half-a-century ago. Westerners working for the California State Oil Company (later Aramco) were the first to introduce cinemas to Saudis.
They installed large screens in their residential compounds during the 1930s to watch American and European films. From residential complexes of foreign employees, cinemas spread to the four major Saudi cities: Riyadh, Jeddah, Taif and Abha, until the number of theaters in Jeddah alone reached 30. Ticket prices ranged from SR3 to SR10.
Early movie theaters were mainly found in sports clubs, foreign embassies, or personally supported by individuals. Wealthy businessmen established many of those theaters and they were nowhere near the standards of other Arab cities such as Cairo and Beirut. It was not difficult to open one, for such theater houses did not require a formal license at the time.
The “cinema alley,” as the people of Riyadh call it, in Al-Murabba neighborhood, had a large number of movie venues back then. Also, the most famous ones in Jeddah were “Bab Sharif,” located in one of the oldest areas of Jeddah, and the “Abu Safeya” cinema in the Hindawi district.
As for Saudi cinema production, during the 1960s and 1970s, there were only a few documentary films produced by oil companies in the Eastern Province. Among the most famous works produced by Aramco is a documentary film about the inauguration of the first petroleum well in the Kingdom, in the presence of King Abdul Aziz.
Abdullah Al-Muhaisen is considered to be the first Saudi director. In1975, he released what can be referred to as the first Saudi film. It was about the development of the city of Riyadh.
Al-Muhaisen participated in the festival of documentary films in Cairo in 1976. Again, in 1977, he released a more important film, a documentary about the Lebanese civil war and the damage that war inflicted on the beautiful city of Beirut. He was awarded with the Nefertiti Prize for best short film.
Dreams of Saudi cinema were cut short by the religious and social changes that followed the failed attempt by Juhayman Al-Otaibi and fellow extremists to capture the Grand Mosque in Makkah.
Cinemas were closed in all major cities of the Kingdom. Embassies closed their doors to members of the community. At the time, the idea of filming for many religious people in society became a “moral crime.”
Those events resulted in the absence of cinematic culture. During the past decades, the public did not believe in the importance of cinema as important source of culture and knowledge. Traces of that period still exist among many Saudis, especially the negative perception that cinema unravels the very moral fabric of the society, because it includes a content that conflicts with Islamic morals and teachings.
However, during the absence of movie theaters in Saudi Arabia, people were able to deal with that by installing small theaters in their houses, and traveling to neighboring Bahrain and the UAE to watch movies as soon as they got released.

Today, most Saudis, especially youth, see the importance of cinemas, even though some believe that controls are important before they are opened. However, the keen interest of Saudis in cinema industry is easily noticeable through their creative production houses that started a few years ago with the rise of social media such as Telfaz11 and Uturn. They used YouTube to practice and promote their talents.


185 disabled Saudi children ready for new academic year

Updated 22 August 2019

185 disabled Saudi children ready for new academic year

RIYADH:  Saudi Arabia’s Disabled Children’s Association (DCA) finished its preparations for the new academic year with the completion of its educational programs aimed at developing children’s mental, cognitive and motor skills.

The DCA’s centers are getting ready to welcome around 185 new students, who will be enrolled in the preparatory and elementary stages. The association is also housing early intervention children in 11 centers throughout the Kingdom.

“The DCA’s centers finished their preparations early in line with the directives of Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz, chairman of the association’s board of directors,” said Awadh Al-Ghamdi, the DCA’s secretary-general.

He added: “The association is keeping pace with new technologies by developing the educational care system every year. It continuously adopts new methods for children with special needs by providing the centers with what is necessary for the development of linguistic, social and psychological skills.

“The DCA held consultative meetings to approve an implementation mechanism by consulting experts from the educational committee at King Saud University about the importance of establishing an innovative resources room in all of the DCA centers.

Al-Ghamdi said: “The project will be implemented in cooperation with the Ministry of Education after it is judged by specialists from Saudi universities and adopted as part of the association’s initiatives. This comes as a continuation of the DCA’s role in caring for children with special needs for more than 35 years.”

The director of the DCA’s center in Al-Rass governorate presented the project’s original idea, which included reviewing the centers’ educational care programs according to modern educational trends.

A working group, which included a number of specialists, was assigned to the investigation. It presented a final vision to the DCA’s secretariat with a guide to the project’s implementation.