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Creating our own cinema content

Time: April 24, 2018
Mahmoud Ahmad

LAST week, history was made following the reintroduction of cinema in our country after more than three decades of being off screen for whatever cultural or religious reasons. The joy of Saudi people following the decision by Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, deputy premier and minister of defense, to bring back cinema as a key component in the shaping of the Saudi entertainment industry knew no bounds. A great segment of our society was finally relieved, and saw the decision implemented with the screening of the film Black Panther in Riyadh.

There are a good percentage of our society who still see cinema as a medium of cultural invasion and a threat to our values. There were naysayers everywhere for every change citing this very reason to sustain the status quo without caring to join the march of progress or a global norm. In every case there are those who will agree or disagree with any introduction of anything in our society, and each will have their own reasons. But when the interest of the majority in the society is in the affirmative, then it would be logical to assent to their wishes after a through study.

I have to admit here that I am an addict of cinema and see absolutely no problem with its reintroduction as I see that it will do more good than harm, especially if we are going to create our own cinema content and export it, which I will elaborate later in this article. Saudis have been hankering for cinema and it is evident when we even travel abroad, especially to Dubai, just for the cinematic experience.

During vacation when Saudis flock to Dubai, or any other destination, the overwhelming majority of them spend a good time of their holidays watching movies. I must confess, I too am guilty of this practice, and sometimes find it funny to find a mini Saudi Arabia in the theaters in Dubai, as most of the moviegoers are Saudis. My Emirati friends and some of my expat friends, who live and work in Dubai, always tell me that we leave the cinema to Saudis during vacation as it gets over crowded.

I also know some of my Saudi friends, who exhibit a split personality when it comes to their opinion about cinema, as I always get into an argument with them over their seemingly double-faced attitude toward cinema — they see it as forbidden to open cinema in Saudi Arabia and yet they would be the first ones in line in Dubai or Emirates malls buying the latest movie tickets. Their argument always is that it is OK to see it abroad, but not in our country. Although I find this claim inane, but there was no way to argue with them on this issue, for they would stubbornly and repeatedly profess this reason in their comments in the past and it would get you nowhere.

For all the stonewalling by my friends in the past, I’m eagerly waiting now for their comments and opinion with the opening of cinema in our country and how normal and smooth the screening has been. What they think now would be something I would relish to listen, but knowing them they are sure to come up with another frivolous reason and repeat it bald-faced.

The pros and cons, the dos and don’ts, and the nuts and bolts of setting up the cinema and systemizing it will always be a topic of discussion. But today, after expressing my wholehearted support for the reintroduction of cinema here, my main talking point is now that the start has been made, we need to grow this medium. We need to invest in our own content creation and work on exporting it. The United States through Hollywood and India through Bollywood and a whole lot of regional ‘woods’ are doing an excellent job in content creation to a level that they are exporting their culture and heritage through cinema to other countries.

I know, during the 80s, when Bollywood, through its exports of its films in videocassettes had a strong presence in the region. We were influenced heavily by Indian movies, which could be viewed along with family in homes, as it was very popular during that time. I know of Saudis, in the 80s and 90s, who were able to sing a whole song from an Indian movie in pure Hindi, without understanding a single word and its meaning while being very clear in the pronunciation of the lyrics.

The same thing can be said of American movies, who focused and trialed on every genre in their projections, as they worked hard to reach that level of international domination and recognition. Today Hollywood is a byword for cinematic excellence. Let us look to our region too and see how Egypt through more than 100 years in cinema content creation has dominated culturally and managed to export their culture and literature to the rest of the Arab world.

With the majority in our society being youth and with the continuous perfect support from our authorities, we can turn this industry into something profitable by not only basking in the entertainment value but by creating our own content. We have Saudi male and female actors and young Saudi directors with promising future if given the needed support. The image of an Arab or a Muslim in Hollywood as a backward bloodthirsty terrorist, which is a fake, and a stereotypical image and the product of others’ imagination now can be challenged. We need to correct these misconceptions and export our own image. In the long run, this will reflect positively on our culture.

In addition to the youth being the standard-bearers of our culture, it would also open up new vistas for honing their creativity. They with their creative initiatives would be the soft ambassadors of Saudi Arabia, enabling a connect with others in the global village, while giving life to their creative juices that could over time even transcend cultural boundaries.

Let us embrace this new experience and turn it to our benefit. For sure it will create jobs for young Saudis and, for sure youth who were segregated in the past and had nowhere to go, can now find relief in watching movies just like they do when they are abroad. Let us waste no time and start quickly innovating and creating our own content and use whatever positivity that comes from it to improve our country by discussing our own problems and finding ways to solve them. A whole new experience awaits us.

This article was first published in Saudi Gazette

If you want more interesting news or videos of this website click on this link Saudi Gazette


Movie tickets sold in 15 minutes in Saudi Arabia

SOURCE: Gulf News

April 21, 2018

Full house as blockbuster ‘Black Panther’ screened in Saudi cinemas

Riyadh: It was a full house on Friday night in Riyadh at Saudi Arabia’s first cinema during the first public screening of a commercial film in more than three decades.

A mixed crowd of hundreds of movie-lovers filed into the movie theatre in King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD) to watch the Hollywood blockbuster, Black Panther, the highest grossing film of 2018.



The initial public screening was preceded by much fanfare that included a gala screening on Wednesday for distinguished local and international guests, in particular industry specialists. It marked the first time in more than 35 years that a commercial film has been screened publicly in the kingdom.

The Development and Investment Entertainment Company (DIEC), a wholly owned subsidiary of the Public Investment Fund (PIF), in collaboration with AMC Entertainment, oversaw the Wednesday launch of the Kingdom’s first public cinema located at KAFD.


As part of Saudi Arabia’s social and economic reforms outlined in Vision 2030 and spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, the Ministry of Culture and Information announced the landmark decision in December to allow commercial cinemas to operate in the kingdom from this year.

BBC News (World)


For the first time in 35 years, Saudis are allowed to go to the cinema. But what did they watch?

“Today is the first show for the public and the response has been overwhelming,” Dr Awwad Al Awwad, the Minister of Culture and Information was quoted by the Centre for International Communication (CIC) as saying on Friday. “This just goes to show how eager Saudis are to watch great films from around the world right here at home. They no longer have to travel outside the Kingdom to go to the movies.”

Adam Aron, CEO and President of AMC Entertainment, said that to have the first public showtime sell out in 15 minutes is unshakeable evidence of the passion and excitement for cinemas in Saudi Arabia.

There are plans for opening about 350 cinemas — 2,500 screens — by 2030, generating an expected $1 billion (Dh3.67 billion) in annual box office receipts and making the kingdom the 11th largest theatrical exhibition market in the world.

The growth of the exhibition sector is expected to create around 30,000 permanent jobs and some 130,000 temporary positions by 2030.

The industry is regulated by the Saudi General Commission for Audiovisual Media.

Celebrities born in the Arab world

SOURCE: Arab News

April 21, 2018

Arabs love to boast of any famous person who was born and/or raised in our homeland (or have even visited it). To help you out at your next dinner party, here’s a list of A-listers that were born in the MENA region.
Lebanon: Keanu Reeves
The “Matrix” trilogy star was born in Lebanon’s capital of Beirut on September 2, 1964 to an English mother and Asian-American father. He barely lived in Beirut before moving around with his family until his parents’ divorce when he was just three years old, but hey, Neo was one of us for a while.
Oman: Isla Fisher
The “Confessions of a Shopaholic” star was born in Muscat, where her father worked as a banker for the United Nations, in 1976. The family moved to Scotland before heading to Australia, where Fisher spent the majority of her childhood before finding fame on Aussie soap “Home and Away.”
Morocco: Jean Reno
The “Leon: The Professional” actor was born to Spanish parents in Casablanca in 1948 and lived there until the age of 17, when he left to study acting in France. The glum-faced thesp went on to star in several blockbusters, including “Mission Impossible,” “Godzilla,” and “The Pink Panther.”
Yemen: Eddie Izzard
The British comedian, actor and writer was born to English parents in Yemen’s southern port city of Aden. Izzard rose to fame in the 1990s with his surreal, good-natured stand-up, and has gone on to appear in a number of box-office Hollywood hits, including “Ocean’s 11” and “The Lego Batman Movie.”
Kuwait: Sanjeeda Sheikh
The Indian actress (pictured here with her husband Aamir Ali) was born in Kuwait in 1984. She moved to Mumbai to help a friend open a dance academy before landing the role of Nimmo in TV show “Kyaa Hoga Nimmo Kaa” in 2005. Sheikh recently starred in the romantic drama series “Love Ka Hai Intezaar.”
Saudi Arabia: Melora Walters
The US actress, perhaps best known for her role as Wanda Henrickson in the Emmy-winning, Mormon-baiting TV show “Big Love,” was born in Dhahran in 1960. The well-respected actress is a favorite of acclaimed director Paul Thomas Anderson, appearing in several of his movies.

How will Egypt be affected by the coming of cinema to Saudi Arabia?

SOURCE: Al Arabiya English

Time: April 21, 2018

The launching of the first cinematic show in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia after more than a 35-year-gap, opens a new and important door to the Egyptian and Arab cinema industry.

This step, which some considered necessary, should create for the Egyptian film in the coming period, an important new market.

Critic Tariq Al-Shennawi confirmed to Al Arabiya that the return of cinemas in Saudi Arabia will have a positive impact on the level of productions in Arab cinema, in addition to the positive impact on the level of drama after Saudi TV announced featuring dramatic series.

Al-Shennawi pointed out that the country that will benefit from this step is Egypt, because the Saudi public taste favors Egyptian productions and also due to the presence of a large Egyptian community in the Kingdom.

Al-Shennawi believes that it will go beyond the idea of distributing the Egyptian film within the Saudi market, where the impact will reach the depth of the industry and where there will be a Saudi productive partnership in the business as well as a strong presence of Saudi artists.

Al-Shennawi revealed that the Saudi partnership has been in place for some time, and there was no announcement about it, which will happen in the coming period, after the decisions that were implemented.

Egyptian director Daoud Abdel-Sayed told Al Arabiya that this step is necessary regardless of anything else, especially since he does not imagine that there is a society at the present time without cinemas.

The film director said that the Saudi move will grant Egyptian cinema a new market for the purchase and the distribution of films.

The Egyptian director revealed the necessity of conducting a study of the quality of the audience and what works they want to view, especially since there is a new generation in the kingdom.

“Will it accept Egyptian films? Or will the trend be in favor of American films?” He noted.

However, he believes that the presence of a Saudi market for Egyptian films will definitely enrich the industry.


Saudi cinema goes back to the past … and 1979 is gone with the wind

SOURCE: Arab News

Time: April 21, 2018

‘A Fistful of Dollars’ is a movie title that is engraved in my memory for one simple reason — I watched that film in a movie theater in Riyadh 40 years ago!

I watched it before cinemas were banned after the ‘1979 revolution’ in Iran, and their doors closed; closing with them a complete social lifestyle.

I was one of the lucky few who were away when these changes happened, as I had traveled one year before to continue my studies in the United States, so I wasn’t personally affected by the changes that affected a whole generation after mine.

Riyadh was a small city then, compared with what it is now; it was home to half a million people, and had three cinemas in sports clubs. The cinemas offered tea and soda, with cheese sandwiches. They were organized, the tickets were sold at the door, and the movie posters were hung on the walls inside. The biggest cinema, with 150 seats, screened two movies on weekend nights (one Arabic and another dubbed American), but only one on weekdays. They were usually crowded, and some people would suffocate us with their cigarette smoke, while others overreacted by whistling or clapping their hands at emotional scenes, or in support of heroes.

Western movies usually reached us late, sometimes a decade late. ‘A Fistful of Dollars,’ featuring Clint Eastwood, was relatively old, but this didn’t stop us from enjoying that evening.

After that ominous revolution in Iran, the Riyadh I had known changed. It became a sad city. Hardliners tightened their grip on it from all sides, and the whole social scene was transformed.

It was devastated by extremists and zealots calling for additional religious activism in what was already one of the most pious cities in the world.

Before that, during the 1960s and 1970s, we knew Riyadh as a simple city; its residents were content with small activities to be happy. The boxing legend Muhammad Ali visited, and we waited for him eagerly at the water tower, the city’s main landmark. In 1978 Al-Hilal football club signed the Brazilian football star Rivellino, and the stadium was packed for every match. Even the nights of Ramadan were an opportunity for sports tournaments, mainly basketball and volleyball, and we were hardly able to find a seat, or even a place to stand.

So, last week, when the movie theaters opened their doors in Riyadh it was “back to the beautiful past.” This, symbolically, meant that the “post-1979 era” has now “gone with the wind.”

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

In addition to movie theaters, the capital was full of entertainment; there was a dedicated street in Al-Mourabba’a neighborhood where we could rent movies and a projector for the weekend. The economic situation of the city didn’t allow for a lot of entertainment, but in spite of this there were concerts, and at the main feasts we used to enjoy military marching bands, in addition to popular festivals that reflected the artistic heritage of the Kingdom.

This accepting, tolerant and enthusiastic spirit began to fade, gradually giving way to the jihadi chants over the war in Afghanistan. Religious extremists reigned and politicized schools and mosques, as the intellectuals and the enlightened retreated before the reign of a new generation of youngsters who were blaspheming them openly in official and popular platforms, even from pulpits.

Many decades went by; the young generation grew old, and a new open-minded generation have now opened their eyes to explore their past. It is the real past; the past of the ancestors who were more civilized and more tolerant, and the past that was subject to attempts to remove it from the people’s collective memory.

So, last week, when the movie theaters opened their doors in Riyadh it was “back to the beautiful past.” This, symbolically, meant that the “post-1979 era” has now “gone with the wind.”

Every nation passes through political and social setbacks; some bounce back, while some will remain broken. But there is no doubt that Saudi Arabia is now willingly bouncing back stronger from the harsh experience it went through, an unenlightened era that hindered development and set society back. This era caused suffering in the past; and that suffering may continue for many years before society fully recovers.

Other nations have had similar experiences. China went through the era of the communist “cultural revolution,” which resembled our “Sahwa” (religious awakening) movement in labeling its opponents as traitors, harassing people and forcing them to follow its teaching. On that haunting Maoist era, I read “Wild Swans,” a novel by the British-Chinese author Jung Chang. It is shocking to discover the details of people’s suffering caused by narrow ideologies and utopian ideas.

Saudi Arabia’s experience will definitely inspire other nations suffering from similar problems, including Muslim countries, and Iran is one of them.

Saudi Arabia is important as it leads and inspires in the Muslim world. When the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said that “we didn’t introduce anything new but were returning to the ‘pre-1979 era,’ and that from now on we will not allow any the extremist ideology to return,” he meant that he wanted to bridge a gap; to link two eras, interrupted by a 40-year halt in history because of the crisis caused by the Iranian revolution and its local by-products.

We are looking at change as being in line with people’s desires and options. No one will be obliged to follow, but everyone will have the right to take the options they want.


Saudi films soar at Golden Falcon film awards

SOURCE: Arab News

Time: April 19, 2018

RIYADH: Saudi films have won awards at an international film festival organized by the Netherlands to coincide with the return of cinema to the Kingdom.

The first Golden Falcon Film Festival awards drew Saudi actors, filmmakers and cinema-lovers to the Netherlands embassy in Riyadh on Wednesday.

More than 30 shortlisted Saudi films were shown at the maiden festival on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Nine films were nominated, with three each in the best film, best script and best director categories. Overall winners were chosen by an international jury headed by Dutch filmmaker Hans Treffers.

Best movie award went to “Mazban.” The other two films nominated in the category were “Tongue” and “Building 20.”

“The Poetess,” “Matour” and “Atoor” were nominated in the best director category with “Atoor” bagging the award.

“Departures,” “Atoor” and “The Remaining” were nominated in the best script category with “Departures” winning the award.

Besides the Golden Falcon trophy, the winners will travel to the Netherlands to study filmmaking techniques.

Joost Reintjes, the Netherlands ambassador in Riyadh, told Arab News: “We are proud to organize the first Golden Falcon Film Festival here to promote filmmaking in the Kingdom and provide a platform for young Saudi filmmakers to show what they have to offer.”

Film screenings — banned in Saudi Arabia in the 1980s following religious changes in the Kingdom — have been revived as part of wide-ranging social and economic reforms encouraged by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The return of cinema was heralded with a film screening on Wednesday at a newly built theater at the King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD) in Riyadh.

Commenting on the lifting of the 35-year ban, Reintjes told Arab News: “That’s Vision 2030 — it is good sign to diversify and develop.

“Although the cinemas in the Kingdom have only been restarted now, Saudi filmmaking has already made a name for itself on the world stage.

“The Saudi film industry will grow very fast. The level of talent is high,” he said.

Mohammed Al-Qass, lead actor from “Departure,” said: “We have been working for this day for years.

“Saudis with a thirst for cinema were traveling outside the country — now they can enjoy and share the experience in their homeland.”

Mohammed Khawajah, a Saudi filmmaker and adviser for the film festival, told Arab News: “The idea for this festival came last year when the lifting of the cinema ban was being discussed.

“The Netherlands embassy had this idea about nine months ago; we sat together and planned the whole festival, which was carried out successfully, with hundreds of people enjoying Saudi films.

“We will improve with our next festival, which will have more fun and entertainment,” he said.



Dubai’s VOX wins licence to operate Saudi cinemas

SOURCE: Arabian Business

Time: April 19, 2018

VOX Cinemas said on Thursday it has been awarded one of the first licences to operate cinemas in Saudi Arabia.

Its new cinema, which will be the first multiplex in Saudi Arabia, will open at Riyadh Park Mall in the coming days, the company said in a statement.

The announcement paves the way for VOX Cinemas to start delivering on a plan to bring its cinema entertainment portfolio to Saudi Arabia, it added.

The VOX Cinemas Riyadh Park experience will include four screens located within the largest Magic Planet Family Entertainment Centre in the region. It will include the first IMAX screen to exhibit movies and VOX KIDS, the concept designed especially for young movie fans.

VOX Cinemas parent company Majid Al Futtaim has already announced project investments valued at SR14 billion across its mall asset, fashion, leisure and retail offerings in Saudi Arabia. This commitment is expected to create more than 114,000 direct and indirect job opportunities.

Majid Al Futtaim CEO Alain Bejjani said: “We thank the Saudi Government, the Ministry of Culture and Information and the General Commission for Audio-visual Media for the confidence they have placed in us to contribute to a new chapter in the history of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

VOX Cinemas said it is investing an additional SR2 billion to open 600 screens in the next five years in Saudi Arabia. These new cinema developments will create some 3,000 direct jobs.

Through its partnership with 20th Century Fox, the distribution arm of Majid Al Futtaim Cinemas will also be exclusively distributing Fox content to all cinemas across Saudi Arabia. In 2018, the company is planning to release anticipated hits including The Darkest Minds, The Predator and the James Cameron produced Alita Battle Angel.

Bejjani added: “Majid Al Futtaim is proud to be one of the largest private sector investors in the kingdom and Vision 2030, with an investment commitment now increasing to SR16 billion.”

Further cinemas currently under design include Majid Al Futtaim’s Mall of Saudi and City Centre Ishbiliyah, with both locations opening in Riyadh in the coming years.


‘Avengers: Infinity War’ second film to be screened in Saudi cinemas

SOURCE: Al Arabiya

Time: April 19, 2018

The Black Panther movie made its debut in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday with a spectacular opening of the kingdom’s very first movie theater. It is now announced that a second film will be screened and it is another Marvel movie: Avengers: Infinity War.

The superhero movie will be released on April 26 in the kingdom, according to the producers of the film. Black Panther is set to be screened for five days in Riyadh.

The science fiction film is two-hours and 23-minutes long starring  Karen Gillan, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Pratt and Anthony Russo.

The 620-seater theatre where the film will be screened is a converted symphony hall in the King Abdullah Financial District, and is the first of hundreds of cinemas planned to open in the next decade.

In December 2017, Saudi Arabia announced that they will lift the three-decade-old ban on commercial cinemas as a part of the social reforms. As part of the deal, the world’s biggest cinema chain, AMC, announced plans to open up to 40 cinemas in more than 15 cities in the kingdom.


Lights, camera, action: Gala heralds rebirth of Saudi cinema

SOURCE: Arab News

Time: April 18, 2018


RIYADH: It was a night to remember: Cinema returned to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday with the first major movie screening in 35 years in a spectacular new theater in King Abdullah Financial District in Riyadh.
The gala screening of the Hollywood blockbuster Black Panther was attended by hundreds of invited guests in the sleek and chic complex — described by AMC cinema chain bosses as “the most beautiful movie theater in the world.”
As the guests took their seats, Princess Reema bint Bandar told Arab News: “It’s a privilege to be here. I hope everyone gets to enjoy the experience I’m having this evening.”
In an official opening ceremony before the movie began, AMC bosses joined Saudi government officials on the stage. Each placed their hand each on a large handprint, triggering a shower of glittering, colorful confetti on the audience. It was a magical moment — just like the movies, in fact.
Paul Hill, the general manager of AMC, told Arab News: “It’s an absolute honor and privilege to be part of the opening It’s a historic achievement. This really will be the place to go.”
The opening was overseen by the Development and Investment Entertainment Company, a subsidiary of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and a partner with AMC in the new cinema complex.
Dr. Awwad Alawwad, the Saudi Minister of Culture and Information, and Adam Aron, chief executive and president of AMC Entertainment, joined diplomats and industry experts to watch Black Panther in the first in a series of invitation-only screenings during April.
“I know for sure that Saudis are very eager to be able to watch their favorite films here in their own country, as now made possible by Vision 2030,” Dr. Alawwad said before the screening.
“This is a landmark moment in the transformation of Saudi Arabia into a more vibrant economy and society. None of this would be possible without the visionary leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.”
The cinema will open to the public on Friday. “There are some surprises and secrets on how we are promoting it. The tickets will be sold online and there will be more information in 24 hours,” said AMC Vice President Jason Cole.
Three more screens will be added to the cinema complex by September. Saudi Arabia plans to open nearly 350 cinemas, with more than 2,500 screens, by 2030.


Big day for Saudi cinema: Here’s what you need to know

SOURCE: Al Arabiya

18 April 2018

After a decades-long wait, Saudi Arabia’s first cinema will open its doors today to a very excited public in Riyadh.

With only hours separating the kingdom from enjoying this world renowned activity, here is what you need to know:

• Saudi Arabia announced that it will open 40 cinemas in 15 Saudi cities over the next five years as part of plans to develop the entertainment sector in the Kingdom. 100 theaters will open in approximately 25 Saudi cities by 2030.

• The Saudi Ministry of Information confirmed that 350 cinema theatres with 2,500 screens are expected to be open across several Saudi cities by 2030.

• The first company to obtain a license to operate cinemas in Saudi Arabia is AMC.

• The Black Panther will be the first film to be shown in the Kingdom’s first cinema. It has now made $665.4 million domestically, which makes it the third-highest grossing film in North American history.

• The film will be exhibited in a theatre that can accommodate 620 people at the King Abdullah Financial Center in Riyadh, and the American operator AMC has also scheduled a special event for the historic opening.

• Cinema tickets will be initially priced at 50 riyals.

• The official Twitter account made for Saudi cinemas ‘alcinema_sa’ received 42,000 followers three hours after it was created. Its first tweet was “We’re back” followed by a popcorn emoji.

• The Saudi Arabian Ministry of Culture and Information has estimated the contribution of the cinema sector to its GDP to be over $24 billion.

• Cinemas in Saudi Arabia will create more than 30,000 full-time jobs, in addition to 130,000 part-time jobs by the year 2030.