IMAX announces plans to produce films in Saudi Arabia

IMAX Richard Gelfond, chief executive officer of Imax Corp stated that it plans to help develop both narrative documentaries as well as international blockbuster co-productions within the Kingdom. (Getty images)
Updated 12 May 2018
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IMAX announces plans to produce films in Saudi Arabia

  • IMAX intends to build 20 to 30 IMAX theaters in Saudi Arabia in the coming years.
  • CEO Richard Gelfond stated that it plans to help develop both narrative documentaries as well as international blockbuster co-productions within the Kingdom.

CANNES: Saudi Arabia’s General Culture Authority and the IMAX Corporation announced Saturday morning at the Saudi pavilion at the 71st Cannes Film Festival their plans to develop IMAX-format films to be produced within Saudi Arabia. IMAX, which works both in film production and theaters, also told Arab News that it intends to build 20 to 30 IMAX theaters in Saudi Arabia in the coming years.
In an exclusive interview with Arab News, IMAX CEO Richard Gelfond stated that it plans to help develop both narrative documentaries as well as international blockbuster co-productions within the Kingdom, with the intention of developing the infrastructure of film in Saudi Arabia as well as to tell the country's story both to the Saudi people and the world.
“I think we’ll probably start with a documentary project, but one of the great things about IMAX is that it takes people where they could never go, whether it’s the bottom of the ocean, whether it’s outer space, that’s what IMAX does at its best. I think we’ll try to find a project involving Saudi Arabia where we can show people in Saudi Arabia educationally how beautiful their own country is and what they can learn about it, as well as export it to other IMAX theaters to share it with the rest of the world,” Gelfond said.
Ahmad Al-Maziad, CEO of the General Culture Authority, told Arab News that the intention is to have IMAX utilized across the board, from major features to documentaries to international productions filming within Saudi Arabia.
“IMAX is a brand, and it’s a brand of quality. It’s a testament to what we need and want to do at GCA. I think we want to go for something that’s higher-end quality. We want to tell our own stories. What better to use the best quality and the best screens to develop a script, which might look like a documentary, but at the end of the day it’s a story. You take a historical journey through the landscape of Saudi, telling an amazing story from a couple thousand years ago. With that you’re creating a scripted documentary that showcases both the storytelling as well as the landscape that we have in Saudi Arabia,” said Al-Maziad.
IMAX intends to hire as much Saudi talent as possible on its projects within Saudi, as its intention is to work with the General Culture Authority to develop the landscape from the bottom up. At the festival on Friday, the GCA announced plans to offer a rebate of at least 35 per cent for foreign productions filmed within the country and 50 per cent of all money spent hiring Saudi talent.
“I think we have to decide on the first project and see what the scope is, but the idea would be to use Saudi talent in large part. It’s not just about watching one movie or three movies, it’s how do you develop the industry. We’ve been in business for 50 years and we’ve done that in other places, most notably in China. We really felt a stake there in developing the film infrastructure in the country, and we feel a similar stake to doing the same thing Saudi,” said Gelfond.
IMAX opened its first IMAX screen through Vox Cinemas in Riyadh, beginning with the release of Marvel’s "Avengers: Infinity War," which has sold out every showing, according to Gelfond. The plan is to develop more theaters throughout Saudi Arabia both with Majid Al Futtaim’s Vox Cinemas as well as AMC Cinemas, which are also planning to open throughout Saudi Arabia.
“AMC is our largest partner in the world, and we’re in discussions what AMC about a number of locations throughout Saudi Arabia. I’m going there next week, Wednesday and Thursday, for other discussions. We just want to do the best entertainment possible, world class, at the best locations possible. That will develop over time,” said Gelfond.
Gelfond said it is not decided how many of the planned 20 to 30 theaters will be Vox, and how many will be AMC, as it is currently in discussions with both parties now.
“I think it’s a very exciting opportunity. IMAX in the Middle East, we have 22 theaters open today, and some are incredible like at the Mall of the Emirates, and some are in more developing places like Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon. People, when they think of IMAX, they think of it as the busiest city and the biggest corner, but the goal is to bring the best cinema experience not only to rich people in big cities, but to a variety of people throughout the country. We’ve done that in the region, and I look forward to doing things in Saudi Arabia.”


Saudi Crown prince’s India visit will help expand ties beyond energy

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to India will boost robust interactions that New Delhi has established with Saudi Arabia over the last few years. (Supplied)
Updated 20 February 2019
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Saudi Crown prince’s India visit will help expand ties beyond energy

  • New Delhi’s participation in Kingdom’s mega projects a major aspect of renewed ties: Talmiz Ahmad

NEW DELHI: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s first visit to India is a landmark development in bilateral ties between India and Saudi Arabia, according to Talmiz Ahmad, a former ambassador to Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia is India’s largest supplier of crude oil, but since taking office in 2014 Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought to use India’s growing economy to attract more investment from Saudi Arabia beyond energy, and foster cooperation on trade, infrastructure and defense.

Ahmad, author of several books on the Arab world and twice India’s Ambassador to Riyadh, said that while the backbone of New Delhi’s relationship with the Kingdom is energy, the two sides had been discussing “how to give greater substance and longevity to the relationship on the basis of concrete projects.”

Reuters reported this week that India is expecting Prince Salman to announce an initial investment in its National Investment and Infrastructure Fund, a quasi-sovereign wealth fund, to help accelerate the building of ports and highways. Saudi Arabia has also suggested investing in India’s farming industry, with an eye on food imports to the Kingdom. 

Ahmad said Saudi Arabia’s NEOM project, a $500 billion smart city in Tabuk province on the Egyptian and Jordanian borders, would also provide great opportunities for Indian companies. 

He added that Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, the crown prince’s blueprint to fundamentally transform Kingdom’s economy, presents another opportunity for Indian businesses to prosper from the relationship.

“India is extremely well placed,” said Ahmad. “We are world leaders in small and medium enterprises and in the services sector. Saudi Arabia also has proposals to develop its tourism and leisure sectors, and I believe India is also well placed in those areas too.”

He also discussed how the strategic partnership had been initiated by former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who visited Riyadh in 2010, but that Modi, who visited in 2016, had added “considerable substance” to the relationship.

He stressed, though, that Riyadh’s ties with India are independent of its relationship with Pakistan. He added India and Saudi Arabia were also working together to improve the security situation in Afghanistan, to resolve the 17-year conflict between government forces and the Afghan Taliban, as well as in the wider West Asia region. 

“India has excellent relations with all the countries in West Asia, and New Delhi is well placed to address some of the concerns that all the countries have with each other,” he said.