Only VIPs to attend as Saudi Arabia launches first new cinema

Only VIPs to attend as Saudi Arabia launches first new cinema

The screening, to be attended by both men and women, will be followed by a rush to build movie theaters in major cities.

"It will be the first in a series of test screenings, attended by industry specialists, that will be held... to support final preparations for the opening of the cinema to the wider public", the information ministry's Center for International Communication said.

The lifting of the ban on cinemas was the country's latest move to relax regulations as part of a plan to revitalize Saudi Arabia's economy by 2030.

The development of the entertainment sector in Saudi Arabia is one of the main objectives of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman's Vision 2030 which is set to lead the Kingdom away from its dependence on oil revenues and expand its industries.

In 2017, the government said it would lift the ban as part of ambitious economic and social reforms that include retaining money that Saudis now spend on entertainment in trips to Dubai, Bahrain and elsewhere.

Over the past few years, Saudi Arabia has gradually been loosening restrictions on movie screenings, with local film festivals and screenings in makeshift theatres.

AMC was the first company granted an operating license from the Saudi government.

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For the most part, though, Saudis who wanted to watch a film in a cinema would have to drive to nearby Bahrain or the United Arab Emirates.

In the 1970s, there were informal movie screenings but the experience could be interrupted by the country's religious police, whose powers have since been curbed.

AMC Entertainment, which is the largest theatrical exhibitor in the world with approximately 1,000 theaters and 11,000 screens across the globe, won the first licence to operate movie theaters in the kingdom and runs the Riyadh cinema.

Access to streaming services, such as Netflix, and satellite TV steadily eroded attempts by the government to censor what the Saudi public could view. The Saudi government said movies shown in theaters "will be subject to censorship according to the media policy standards of the Kingdom". However, films have been shown in the kingdom for decades, just not in commercial settings.

In an official opening ceremony before the movie began, AMC bosses joined Saudi government officials on the stage. Scenes of violence are not cut, but scenes involving nudity, sex or even kissing often do get axed.

Three more screens at KAFD's theatre will open in the third quarter of 2018, marking the beginning of a partnership that could see 30 to 40 cinemas in approximately 15 cities in Saudi Arabia over the next five years, and 50 to 100 cinemas in about 25 Saudi cities by 2030.

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