The rise, fall and rebirth of Saudi cinema

Updated 13 December 2017

The rise, fall and rebirth of Saudi cinema

JEDDAH: Cinemas existed in Saudi Arabia’s major cities about half-a-century ago. Westerners working for the California State Oil Company (later Aramco) were the first to introduce cinemas to Saudis.
They installed large screens in their residential compounds during the 1930s to watch American and European films. From residential complexes of foreign employees, cinemas spread to the four major Saudi cities: Riyadh, Jeddah, Taif and Abha, until the number of theaters in Jeddah alone reached 30. Ticket prices ranged from SR3 to SR10.
Early movie theaters were mainly found in sports clubs, foreign embassies, or personally supported by individuals. Wealthy businessmen established many of those theaters and they were nowhere near the standards of other Arab cities such as Cairo and Beirut. It was not difficult to open one, for such theater houses did not require a formal license at the time.
The “cinema alley,” as the people of Riyadh call it, in Al-Murabba neighborhood, had a large number of movie venues back then. Also, the most famous ones in Jeddah were “Bab Sharif,” located in one of the oldest areas of Jeddah, and the “Abu Safeya” cinema in the Hindawi district.
As for Saudi cinema production, during the 1960s and 1970s, there were only a few documentary films produced by oil companies in the Eastern Province. Among the most famous works produced by Aramco is a documentary film about the inauguration of the first petroleum well in the Kingdom, in the presence of King Abdul Aziz.
Abdullah Al-Muhaisen is considered to be the first Saudi director. In1975, he released what can be referred to as the first Saudi film. It was about the development of the city of Riyadh.
Al-Muhaisen participated in the festival of documentary films in Cairo in 1976. Again, in 1977, he released a more important film, a documentary about the Lebanese civil war and the damage that war inflicted on the beautiful city of Beirut. He was awarded with the Nefertiti Prize for best short film.
Dreams of Saudi cinema were cut short by the religious and social changes that followed the failed attempt by Juhayman Al-Otaibi and fellow extremists to capture the Grand Mosque in Makkah.
Cinemas were closed in all major cities of the Kingdom. Embassies closed their doors to members of the community. At the time, the idea of filming for many religious people in society became a “moral crime.”
Those events resulted in the absence of cinematic culture. During the past decades, the public did not believe in the importance of cinema as important source of culture and knowledge. Traces of that period still exist among many Saudis, especially the negative perception that cinema unravels the very moral fabric of the society, because it includes a content that conflicts with Islamic morals and teachings.
However, during the absence of movie theaters in Saudi Arabia, people were able to deal with that by installing small theaters in their houses, and traveling to neighboring Bahrain and the UAE to watch movies as soon as they got released.

Today, most Saudis, especially youth, see the importance of cinemas, even though some believe that controls are important before they are opened. However, the keen interest of Saudis in cinema industry is easily noticeable through their creative production houses that started a few years ago with the rise of social media such as Telfaz11 and Uturn. They used YouTube to practice and promote their talents.


Riyadh Season Boulevard zone opens with spectacular parade

Updated 18 October 2019

Riyadh Season Boulevard zone opens with spectacular parade

  • The Riyadh parade is thought to be the biggest parade in Kingdom to date

RIYADH: More than 1,500 performers and 25 floats took part in a parade and carnival on Thursday night that officially launched Riyadh Season’s Boulevard zone. The crowds that gathered for the fun-packed event were also treated to motorcycle displays, fireworks and other surprises.

The Boulevard lit up at 9 p.m. for the start of the 90-minute event, which featured some of the international artists who will perform as part of Riyadh Season. Afterwards, the zone’s food and drink outlets, outdoor cinema and fountain shows officially opened.

The audience watched the parade, performances and displays from specially constructed stands. Food trucks offered a selection of tasty snacks, and organizers also provided prayer rooms, toilets, first-aid stations and other facilities.



In addition to the opening-night festivities, the Boulevard zone, which covers 400,000 square meters, will host a wide range of entertainment options and activities for all ages, including the outdoor cinema, restaurants, and sports, music and theatrical events. It has three main venues: The 22,000-seat Mohammed Abdu Theater, the 6,000-seat Abu Bakr Salem Theater, and the 2,000-seat Baker Al-Sheddi Theater.

The parade is just one of more than 100 events featuring local, regional and international performers taking place during the Riyadh Season festival, which continues until mid-December at 12 zones across the city: the Boulevard; the Front; Riyadh Car Show; Winter Wonderland; Riyadh Stadiums; the Diplomatic Quarter; Al-Muraba’a; Al-Malaz; Wadi Namar; Nabd Al-Riyadh; Riyadh Safari; and Riyadh Sahara. It has been organized with the support of Turki Al-Sheikh, chairman of the General Entertainment Authority and president of Riyadh Season.

The audience watched the parade from specially built stands. (Supplied)

 

The ambitious 2019 Saudi Seasons initiative, the first of its kind in the region, was launched in February and includes 11 local seasons covering most parts of the Kingdom. Designed to promote the fledgling Saudi entertainment sector and boost tourism, it is attracting some of the biggest names in world entertainment.

The Riyadh parade is thought to be the biggest parade in Kingdom to date. It follows a folklore parade at the Mawtni (My Nation) cultural event in Yanbu to mark Saudi National Day this year, and a parade during the Jeddah Season festivities in the city’s Obhur district.