When watching films was pure family fun: An Arab News veteran looks back at what movie night used to be

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Moroccan singer Abdelwahab Al-Doukkali, shown in this 2013 photo, performed a concert live on stage at the Ministry of Education hall in Jeddah before the Kingdom banned cinemas and concerts. (Wikimedia Commons)
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One of the movies former Arab News editor in chief Khaled Almaeena remembers being in shown in Jeddah when he was My Fair Lady.
Updated 29 April 2018

When watching films was pure family fun: An Arab News veteran looks back at what movie night used to be

  • This new change needed a political will and a person who would pick up the cudgel and say “enough is enough.”
  • The Saudi people are like others around the globe. They want to be a part of that world culture, music, art and beauty.

JEDDAH: Lately, there have been many gasps by the Western media over the Saudi government’s decision to allow movie theaters and cinemas in the Kingdom. 

Ever since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ushered in a more tolerant, acceptable and modern era, there has been a sea change in Saudi society. 

The fear of the harbingers of darkness were put to rest when, despite shrieks of hellfire and damnation and the wrath of the Almighty, nothing happened. Art, culture and music festivals were held in an atmosphere of total propriety. There were no unwanted incidents as Saudi men and women, families, young and old, mingled and behaved like any normal spectator would around the globe.

As far as movies are concerned, they are not new phenomena: To people like me and to senior citizens in Jeddah, Makkah, Taif and even Madinah, movies were shown. My uncle visited Riyadh in 1956 and saw a movie there.

Aramco had its theater in Dhahran. Petromin had a weekly movie show on Kilo 4, the old Makkah road which had a mixed congregation. The most famous was the Jamjoom Theater. It was owned by Fua Jamjoom, a Jeddawi with a cavalier attitude who dared those who came to close the theater. Tickets for an air-conditioned hall were priced at SR5. Non-air-conditioned seats cost SR3.

Movie-goers at Jamjoom Theater would always grab a bite at Shawarma Shakir, either before the cinema or after. It was a famous shawarma joint that many enjoyed, along with refreshments. Across the city, near the seaport and in the Hindawiya district, there were several other makeshift theaters which showed both Arabic and English films. The area would be sprayed with “Raid” mosquito repellant. At the Jamjoom center, I saw many movies. My mom was a great fan of James Bond, and we saw several ones: “From Russia with Love,” “Goldfinger” and “Dr. No.”

I remember my mother crying during “Love Story” when Ali MacGraw’s character became ill. We saw “Deliverance,” starring Jon Voight, the father of Angelina Jolie. And of course many Arabic ones, especially those with Ismail Yaseen, the famous Egyptian comedian.

Al-Attas Hotel also had a hall where we used to go to see movies with my cousins. It was a normal life. Music and culture flourished. At the Jeddah radio station where I worked part time, we were our own disc jockeys.

I saw the play “My Fair Lady” in Jeddah, where the audience was entertained in an almost Haymarket-type of presentation. The famous Moroccan singer Abdelwahab Al-Doukkali performed a concert live on stage at the Ministry of Education hall in Al-Baghdadiah district in Jeddah. Yes, the Ministry of Education!

He sang his classic song “Marsool Al Hobb” (Messenger of Love) to an enthusiastic crowd. As Mary Hopkin would say: “Those were the days.” And then a pall of gloom and darkness descended in 1980. However, I do not wish to focus on that period but am stating now that this new change needed a political will and a person who would pick up the cudgel and say “enough is enough.”

The Saudi people are like others around the globe. They want to be a part of that world culture, music, art and beauty. And Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has opened that door. 


A Saudi app that promotes Arabic reading

Updated 37 min 30 sec ago

A Saudi app that promotes Arabic reading

  • Lamsa was launched in Saudi Arabia in 2012
  • It provides an innovative way of motivating children to learn

DUBAI: The most crucial year in a child’s education may be the age of 8, or third grade, according to a study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.The organization, which focuses on improving the wellbeing of American children, found this to be the developmental phase when children transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.”

The research also established that third graders who lack proficiency in reading are four times as likely to become high-school dropouts.

The significance of this pivotal point in early childhood development is what drives Badr Ward, CEO of Arabic edutainment app Lamsa, to develop innovative ways of motivating kids in the Arab world to read and learn in their language.

“If we don’t encourage reading at that age, we could be taking the risk of them having a life-long issue with catching up,” Ward said.

Since children already spend a considerable amount of their time on connected devices, Ward is convinced that edutainment — media designed to educate through entertainment — is the best way to make screen time “relevant and meaningful.”

Badr Ward, CEO of Lamsa. (Supplied Photo)

Launched in Saudi Arabia in 2012, Lamsa provides an ad-free platform featuring animated literature, rhymes, songs, interactive games and educational videos in Arabic for children aged between 2 and 8.

Ward said: “We have to face reality. Education systems across the world are legacy systems. Whether we like it or not, technology has changed the way we consume information. Children today have access to devices from the moment they are born. So whether it’s reading on paper or e-books or interactive storytelling, we need to look at encouraging them to read, and to love to read and learn.”

Ward explains that much like a favorite teacher impacts a child’s interest in a subject, edutainment has a significant effect on their curiosity about a topic.

He modelled the characters in the edutainment app after his daughter Joory and son Adam, whose lack of interest in reading prompted him to start Lamsa.

Ward sought advice from his friend Leonard Marcus, an author, historian and expert on English language children’s literature. Marcus recommended taking the kids to a comic book store and letting them explore without forcing them to buy anything.

“So I did that,” Ward said. “We went to the comic book store, and I let them roam around. They were fascinated by the images.”

“Arabic is not just a language. It’s so important for children to understand their heritage and culture.”

Badr Ward, CEO of Arabic edutainment app Lamsa

He then asked his kids if they wanted anything, and they asked to have some of the comics. “In the evening, I found my children opening the comic book and just laughing,” he said.

“Because of that start three years ago, they can’t let go of books now.”

Ward said seeing the power of images and illustrations has made him support using pictures to captivate children.

The lack of quality and culturally relevant educational material in Arabic remains a challenge, he said. For this reason, Lamsa’s content library has been developed to celebrate Arabic not just as a language but as a source of heritage, culture, literature, music and food. The app team works in partnership with Arab authors, illustrators and organizations.

“Arabic is not just a language,” Ward said, adding that for Arab children everywhere, understanding cultural context is crucial to their values, beliefs and identity.

“It’s so important in the development of children to have a clear understanding of where they come from. In order to establish understanding of other cultures and learn tolerance, you need to start with your own. It’s fundamental to confidence, identity and heritage.”

 

 The Middle East Exchange is one of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Global Initiatives that was launched to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai in the field of humanitarian and global development, to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region. The initiative offers the press a series of articles on issues affecting Arab societies.