RIYADH: Saudi Arabia held a private screening Wednesday of the Hollywood blockbuster “Black Panther” to herald the launch of movie theaters in the kingdom that are expected to open to the public as early as next month.
Authorities planned an invitation-only screening of the movie in a concert hall converted into a cinema complex in the capital, Riyadh. The screening will be followed by a rush to build movie theaters in major cities.
The Development and Investment Entertainment Company (DIEC), a wholly owned subsidiary of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), will oversee the historic launch of the Kingdom’s first public cinema in collaboration with AMC Entertainment at a newly set up cinema complex at King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD) in Riyadh.
Abdullah Al Dawood, Chairman of DIEC, said: “DIEC is very proud to launch the first public cinema in Saudi Arabia in partnership with AMC and do so in such an iconic location.” KAFD, which is hosting the first AMC Cinemas complex, is Saudi Arabia’s Central Business District which will provide modern, integrated and mixed-use areas, comprising high quality office, residential and hospitality space.
Adam Aron, CEO of AMC Entertainment, said: “At AMC we have around 1,000 theaters and 11,000 screens across the globe – but none of them have caught the world’s imagination like this one. When I talked to people around the world in recent weeks it was clear that this is a historic event.” The Saudi government has dubbed Wednesday’s event as “the showing of the first commercial film in the kingdom after more than 35 years.”
“This is a landmark moment in the transformation of Saudi Arabia into a more vibrant economy and society,” Saudi Minister of Culture and Information Awwad Alawwad said in statement. It’s a stark reversal for a country where public movie screenings were banned in the 1980’s during a wave of conservativism that swept Saudi Arabia then.
The move to open movie theaters in Saudi comes as part of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman efforts to reform various aspect of Saudi Arabia’s political, economic and social life. The crown prince is behind measures such as lifting a ban on women driving that will go into effect this summer, and bringing back concerts and other forms of entertainment to satiate the desires of the country’s majority young population.
The social push by Prince Mohammed is part of his so-called Vision 2030, a blueprint for the country that aims to boost local spending and create jobs amid sustained lower oil prices. The Saudi government projects that the opening of movie theaters will contribute more than 90 billion riyals ($24 billion) to the economy and create more than 30,000 jobs by 2030. The kingdom says there will be 300 cinemas with around 2,000 screens built by 2030.
Over the past several years, Saudi Arabia has gradually been loosening restrictions on movie screenings, with local film festivals and screenings in makeshift theaters. For the most part, though, Saudis who wanted to watch a film in a movie theater would have to drive to nearby Bahrain or the United Arab Emirates for weekend trips to the cinema.