Soft opening for Saudi cinemas, then curtain up in May

People attend a film festival in Riyadh recently. (AFP file photo)
Updated 17 April 2018
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Soft opening for Saudi cinemas, then curtain up in May

  • Cinemas were popular in major Saudi cities 50 years ago
  • Cinema revival in the Kingdom is part of widespread social reforms

JEDDAH: A new era of cinema history in Saudi Arabia will be ushered in at a private film screening this week.

The screening, a collaboration between the Saudi Development and Investment Entertainment Company and US theater giant AMC Entertainment, will take place on Wednesday at a newly built cinema complex in Riyadh’s King Abdullah Financial District.

The private screening — one of a series of invitation-only shows — comes as cinemas in the Kingdom prepare to open their doors following the end of a 35-year ban. The move is part of widespread social reforms led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Cinemas will open their doors to the public in May, with tickets expected to go on sale online later this month.

Three screens will open in the third quarter of 2018, with 40 or more cinema complexes due to be built in the next five years.

Half a century ago, cinemas were popular in major cities in Saudi Arabia. Oil workers in the 1930s set up large outdoor screens to watch US and European films.

Cinemas quickly spread across the Kingdom, with 30 theaters operating in Jeddah alone. 

But religious changes in the Kingdom in the early 1980s led to a ban, forcing people to install home theaters or travel to neighboring countries to enjoy global films.

Saudis have been watching the rebirth of cinema in the Kingdom with growing excitement.

Jeddah student Amani Al-Ghoraibi told Arab News: “It will be a new experience that everyone is ready to embrace.” 

Teacher Maha Al-Zahrani said: “Cinemas were only banned because of some hard-liners. All citizens want them back.”


Sharqiah Season: What to expect this weekend?

Updated 21 March 2019
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Sharqiah Season: What to expect this weekend?

RIYADH: A bumper program of entertainment is being lined up in the Eastern Province for the biggest weekend yet of Sharqiah Season.

Concerts, a film festival, and a spectacular air race are just some of the events due to take place in the region as part of attractions for both Saudis and visitors to the Kingdom.

The action gets underway with the fifth annual Saudi Film Festival taking place from March 21 to 26 at the King Abdul Aziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) in Dhahran.

Organized by the Saudi Arabian Society for Culture and Arts (SASCA) in Dammam, in partnership with Ithra, the movie fest will honor Saudi and Gulf cinema figures and include 10 training workshops and 10 seminars.

The festival aims to promote opportunities for Saudi talent in the film industry and flicks from the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman will be included among screenings.

All participating films will be shown during the event, and there will be a Golden Palm award for best documentary about a Saudi city and best poster (based on audience voting). A winners’ presentation will take place at the closing ceremony, after which the films will be screened at the Ithra center.

Tickets can be purchased via Ithra’s website, with options for single-day, four-day, and VIP passes.

Meanwhile, the long-awaited Red Bull Air Race demo comes to Dammam from March 21 to 23. The event, organized along with the General Sports Authority, will provide spectators with a warm-up taster for the Red Bull Air Race World Championship 2019 season finale, to be held in Saudi Arabia in November.

The air-racing competition, developed in 2003 and accredited by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), is billed as “the most advanced aerial challenge in existence.”

Using the fastest, most agile, high-performance race planes, pilots fly just meters from the ground and against the clock to complete an obstacle course full of twists and turns. The air spectacular takes off at Dammam Corniche between 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Saturday will also see the highly anticipated Color Run come to the South Alkhobar Corniche. The 5-km dash involves participants being doused with colored powder at the end of every kilometer. Runners start dressed all in white and emerge at the end of the run covered in the colors of the General Entertainment Authority’s logo.

The untimed run takes place between 5 a.m. and noon and rest areas offering refreshments and entertainment will be available between stops.

For concert fans the Asharqiah Music Festival will feature performances by major names at Dammam’s Life Park. US rapper Pitbull and Canadian DJ Deadmau5 will take to the stage on March 21, and March 22 will witness performances by Egyptian vocalist Amr Diab, US-Moroccan rapper French Montana, and American singer Akon.

Lovers of regional music are not left out, with appearances by Assala Nasri and Mutrif Al-Mutrif on March 22, and Nabil Shuail and Hatem Al-Iraqi on March 23, all at the Prince Faisal Bin Fahd Center in Al-Qatif.

Sharqiah Season, the first of 11 Saudi seasons of entertainment planned for 2019, will run until the end of the month with more than 83 different events scheduled across nine cities in the region.