Saudi Arabia begins screening films after decades-long ban lifted

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General view of the new first Saudi cinema at cultural club in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Jan. 13, 2018. (Reuters/Reem Baeshen)
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People watch movie at the first Saudi Arabia cinema in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Jan. 13, 2018. (Reuters/Reem Baeshen)
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People are seen inside the first Saudi Arabia cinema in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Jan. 13, 2018. (Reuters/Reem Baeshen)
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Children are seen inside the first Saudi Arabia cinema in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Jan. 13, 2018. (Reuters/Reem Baeshen)
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People watch movie at the first Saudi Arabia cinema in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Jan. 13, 2018. (Reuters/Reem Baeshen)
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People arrive to first Saudi Arabia cinema in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Jan. 13, 2018. (Reuters/Reem Baeshen)
Updated 15 January 2018
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Saudi Arabia begins screening films after decades-long ban lifted

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia began screening feature-length animated children’s films this weekend in a makeshift theater, after a 35-year-old ban on cinemas was lifted in the conservative Islamic kingdom.
The first permanent theaters could open as early as March, part of a liberalising reform drive that has already opened the door to concerts, comedy shows and women drivers over the past year.
For now, the authorities are sponsoring temporary settings, like the state-run cultural hall in the Red Sea city of Jeddah equipped with a projector, a red carpet and a popcorn machine.
“Until now, there is no infrastructure for movie theaters, so we are trying to take advantage of (alternative) venues to approximate the cinematic form,” said Mamdouh Salim, whose Cinema 70 brand organized the week-long screenings.
“We tried to use these films to be a starting point as the first cinematic screening after the decision on Dec. 11 to permit movie theaters.”
Cinemas were banned in the early 1980s under pressure from Islamists as Saudi society turned toward a particularly conservative form of religion that discouraged public entertainment and public mixing between men and women.
But reforms led by 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have eased many of those restrictions, as the government tries to broaden the economy and lessen its dependence on oil.
In a nod to conservatives, films will be censored to make sure they remain in line with the kingdom’s “moral values.”


More fun
After watching The Emoji Movie with his wife and daughter on Sunday evening, 28-year-old Sultan Al-Otaibi said Saudis are happy to see movies in the theater instead of staying at home.
“It’s more comfortable, more fun to have a change of scenery and an activity on the weekend. It is a step that was very late in coming but thank God it’s happening now.”
Thousands of Saudis currently travel to Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and other countries for entertainment. The government wants to retain the money spent on those trips.
The authorities expect to open 300 cinemas with 2,000 screens by 2030, building an industry it hopes will contribute more then 90 billion riyals ($24 billion) to the economy and create 30,000 permanent jobs.
Regional and international cinema chains are also eyeing the Saudi market, keen to tap the spending power of the young people who make up roughly 70 percent of the population.
“I want to see everything because it is something new for Saudi,” said 30-year-old movie-goer Ibtisam Abu Talib. “I hope everything is available — action, romance, children’s films, comedy. Everything, God willing.”


Two Holy Mosques program receives international award

The Two Holy Mosques program has received the Sharjah International Cultural Heritage award for its achievements. (SPA)
Updated 22 May 2018
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Two Holy Mosques program receives international award

  • The state adopted the program presented by the SCTH four years ago
  • King Salman’s initiative to care for cultural heritage is one of the outputs presented by the SCTH

RIYADH: The Two Holy Mosques program to care for the Kingdom’s cultural heritage has received the Sharjah International Cultural Heritage award for its achievements.
It was described as an unprecedented national program sponsoring projects and efforts related to all aspects of national heritage.
King Salman’s initiative to care for cultural heritage is one of the outputs presented by the SCTH, sponsored and financed by the country, and it is being carried out as part of the important initiatives of Saudi Vision 2030 with more than SR5 billion ($1.3 billion) allocated in the current phase. The initiative includes 10 courses, each under implementation consisting of a number of main projects that amount to more than 330 in total.
The state adopted the program presented by the SCTH four years ago and financed within the National Transformation Program with more than SR4 billion ($1 billion).
The program includes the establishment of 18 museums in the Kingdom, 80 heritage sites and opening them to visitors, the restoration of 18 villages and traditional towns to visitors.