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Lights, camera, action: The night movies came back to Saudi Arabia

Children await the film screening in Jeddah on Saturday. (Reuters)
RIYADH: Film fans went to the movies in Saudi Arabia at the weekend for the first time in 35 years.
Feature-length animated children’s films were screened at a makeshift cinema set up in a cultural hall in Jeddah — and full-scale movie theaters could open as early as March as authorities finalize regulations and a legal framework.
“We are working with government officials and private companies. In 90 days, we will have the details,” General Commission for Audiovisual Media spokesman Abdullah Al-Shamlani told Arab News.
Meanwhile cinema chiefs are doing their best to make film fans feel at home, with a projector, a red carpet and a popcorn machine at their temporary venue.
“There is no infrastructure for movie theaters, so we are trying to take advantage of venues to approximate the cinematic form,” said Mamdouh Salim, whose Cinema 70 brand has organized a week of 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.”
After watching The Emoji Movie with his wife and daughter on Sunday evening, Sultan Al-Otaibi, 28, said Saudis were happy to see movies in a cinema instead of staying at home.
“It’s more comfortable, more fun to have a change of scenery and an activity at the weekend. It is a step that was very late in coming but thank God it’s happening now.”
Saudi authorities expect to open 300 cinemas with 2,000 screens by 2030, building an industry it hopes will contribute more then SR90 billion ($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 Saudis,” said 30-year-old moviegoer Ibtisam Abu Talib, 30
“I hope everything is available — action, romance, children’s films, comedy. Everything, God willing.”

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