Vox Cinemas brings popcorn and superheroes to 80 screens across Saudi Arabia

Vox in Riyadh Park Mall. Cinemas in the Kingdom will eventually account for half of MAF’s regional cinema business, Cameron Mitchell, the chief executive of MAF Cinemas, has estimated. (Courtesy: MAF)
Updated 19 June 2018

Vox Cinemas brings popcorn and superheroes to 80 screens across Saudi Arabia

  • Majid Al Futtaim (MAF), the Dubai-based operator of malls and leisure facilities, is preparing a big roll-out of new cinema screens in the Kingdom
  • Cameron Mitchell, the chief executive of MAF Cinemas, revealed the plans in an interview with Arab News

DUBAI: Majid Al Futtaim (MAF), the Dubai-based operator of malls and leisure facilities, is preparing a big roll-out of new cinema screens in the Kingdom.
Following the first film viewing for nearly four decades in April and the opening of four Vox screens in Riyadh Park Mall, MAF is on the verge of a more ambitious initiative to create 80 screens in the Kingdom by the first quarter of next year.
Cameron Mitchell, the chief executive of MAF Cinemas, revealed the plans in an interview with Arab News.
“By the spring of 2019 we will have invested $100 million in cinema in Saudi Arabia, and by the end of next year we expect to have 200 screens. It is one of the fastest programs of openings anywhere in the world. There’s a lot happening very quickly,” he said.
The latest initiative is part of MAF’s $550 million strategy for cinemas in the Kingdom, and will see screens in Riyadh, Jeddah, in the Eastern Province and eventually many other smaller cities. Mitchell, who has been working in cinema in the region for the past 12 years, said the Saudi Arabian market is potentially huge.
“Saudi Arabia has such a young population and a big demand for entertainment, so the potential is enormous. For example, in Australia the average per capita number of cinema visits is five times a year. Even if every Saudi visits a cinema just once a year, that’s 30 million new visits per year,” he said.
MAF is planning to open 600 screens in Saudi Arabia by 2030, but Mitchell said that could be a “conservative” target. Cinemas in the Kingdom will eventually account for 50 percent of MAF’s regional cinema business, he estimated.
Mitchell said that MAF’s experience so far in Saudi Arabia had been very good. “We think we know what will appeal to Saudi audiences. Black Panther was the first, and the reception was fantastic. Movies such as the Avenger series, Ferdinand, Jurassic Park, X-Men all play well there.The big blockbusters go down really well, but there will also be Arabic films, and Hindi films at other times. Jurassic Park was a real hit — it was the first time some Saudis had ever seen a 3D dinosaur on a big screen,” he added.
The four screens in Riyadh are divided into “family” and “bachelor” venues, and films are chosen to be suitable for the particular audience. “Aside from the segregation of bachelors and families, it’s no different from Dubai. Perhaps over time, that segregation will change too,” Mitchell said.
The reintroduction of cinema has gone very smoothly, he said. “There have been no real challenges regarding content. We’ve been working closely with the censors, but there have been no problems so far.
“We’ve learned a lot from how the UAE censors films, and advances in technology allow us to do it in a more subtle way, for instance zooming in on one subject in a controversial scene. We can avoid (bits) ... rather than cutting the whole scene.
“Areas to avoid are pretty obvious — religion and nudity, and we don’t really show films that have that kind of content anyway. It is mainly action films and family films. We will have lots of screens, so we can match whatever the demand is and the law allows,” he said.
MAF wants to make cinema one of the main forms of entertainment in the Kingdom as it goes through Vision 2030 transformation plans aimed at diversifying the economy and allowing a more liberal lifestyle.
“It is not just about a movie. We want it to be the favorite form of all-round entertainment, and so far it has been a great success. We’ve been selling tickets a couple of days in advance. There have been multiple sold-out sessions, and we’ve had a lot of positive feedback on the popcorn and the nachos,” he said.
One of the biggest cinema hubs will be in the Mall of Saudi, which MAF is planning in the Saudi capital, complete with an indoor ski slope.
“Our cinemas win awards for being among the best in the world, quite an achievement for a Middle East company. The Mall of Saudi will be an entertainment hub, equipped for gaming as well,” Mitchell said. Other new screens will be located in existing malls but there will also be some standalone venues.
“We’re spending a lot of money to develop cinemas quickly, so returns will be consistent with what we normally get from cinemas,” he said.
Mitchell said MAF was open to discussions with existing developers, and would be interested in projects in places such as King Abdullah Economic City and Qiddiya, the huge leisure complex planned outside Riyadh.
“We like to see ourselves as the local developer. Of course, there is competition, but we always build the best in the region, and we run the best malls in the region too. We don’t do cheap, we do best in class and we won’t cut corners,” he said.
MAF plans to employ 3,000 mostly Saudi staff in its cinema business, and wants to recruit a Saudi to run the distribution business in which it partners with 20th Century Fox.
The boost to KSA cinema entertainment is also expected to have a big effect on film-making in the region, Mitchell said.
“We’re looking for some big Saudi film premieres in the autumn. I was at the Cannes Film Festival recently, marketing the product and looking at how we can support the film industry in Saudi Arabia.
“Regionally, there is not a lot of locally made content, but we expect a lot more in years to come. We want local content and we see lots of Saudi films in coming years. We will work with the government to help that along. Cinema in Saudi Arabia is a government-backed and endorsed initiative as part of 2030,” he said.


India shuts down Internet in hotspot after deadly protests

Updated 13 December 2019

India shuts down Internet in hotspot after deadly protests

  • Protests erupted this week after the government introduced new legislation that many in the far-flung northeast believe will give citizenship to immigrants
  • On Friday morning thousands gathered in central Guwahati as riot police looked on

GUWAHATI: Internet access was cut in India’s northeastern city of Guwahati on Friday as thousands gathered for fresh protests against a new citizenship law, a day after police shot dead two demonstrators.
Protests erupted this week after the government introduced new legislation that many in the far-flung northeast believe will give citizenship to immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, and which other critics say is anti-Muslim.
On Friday morning thousands gathered in central Guwahati as riot police looked on, with residents hurrying out to buy essentials.
No fresh violence was reported but Guwahati and other areas remained littered from the detritus of recent days, with some roads blocked by fallen trees, concrete poles, stones and iron railings. Many cash machines have run out of cash and most petrol stations were also shut.
A local government official said that Internet access in the Guwahati, the main city of Assam state, had been cut and an AFP reporter confirmed that connections appeared to have been suspended.
The Meghalaya state government has also cut off mobile Internet, with parts of the capital Shillong brought under curfew since Thursday evening.
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was planning to scrap a visit to the city due to begin on Sunday as the security situation deteriorated, media reported Friday. The Japanese leader had been slated to hold talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
On Thursday, police had fired live and blank rounds as thousands of demonstrators in Guwahati and elsewhere took to the streets, some vandalising property and torching vehicles.
The two demonstrators killed in the city were among around 20 people being treated in hospital, “a few” of whom had gunshot wounds, said Ramen Talukdar, a doctor at a Guwahati hospital.
Hundreds of passengers stuck at Guwahati airport were brought to the city on government buses with police escort in the early hours of Friday morning.
Several thousand troops have been drafted in to help police, who fired tear gas and charged demonstrators with batons, in recent days.
Security was increased at the Bangladeshi consulate in Guwahati after a vehicle in the consul’s convoy was attacked Wednesday by mobs, the foreign ministry in Dhaka said.
“They cant settle anyone in our motherland. This is unacceptable. We will die but not allow outsiders to settle here,” Manav Das, a protester told AFP on Friday.
“We will defeat the government with the force of the people and the government will be forced to revoke the law,” said local activist Samujal Battacharya.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), signed into law by the Indian president late Thursday, allows for the fast-tracking of applications from religious minorities from three neighboring countries, but not Muslims.
For Islamic groups, the opposition and rights groups, it is part of Modi’s Hindu nationalist agenda to marginalize India’s 200 million Muslims. He denies this.
The US State Department on Thursday urged India to “protect the rights of its religious minorities,” according to Bloomberg.
But many in India’s northeast object for different reasons, fearing that immigrants from Bangladesh — many of them Hindus — will become citizens, taking jobs and weakening the local culture.
The chief ministers of the states of Punjab in the north and Kerala in the south also said that they would not implement the law, the Hindu daily reported.
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