Soft opening for Saudi cinemas, then curtain up in May

SOURCE: Arab News

Time: April 17, 2018

JEDDAH: A new era of cinema history in Saudi Arabia will be ushered in at a private film screening this week.

The screening, a collaboration between the Saudi Development and Investment Entertainment Company and US theater giant AMC Entertainment, will take place on Wednesday at a newly built cinema complex in Riyadh’s King Abdullah Financial District.

The private screening — one of a series of invitation-only shows — comes as cinemas in the Kingdom prepare to open their doors following the end of a 35-year ban. The move is part of widespread social reforms led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Cinemas will open their doors to the public in May, with tickets expected to go on sale online later this month.

Three screens will open in the third quarter of 2018, with 40 or more cinema complexes due to be built in the next five years.

Half a century ago, cinemas were popular in major cities in Saudi Arabia. Oil workers in the 1930s set up large outdoor screens to watch US and European films.

Cinemas quickly spread across the Kingdom, with 30 theaters operating in Jeddah alone.

But religious changes in the Kingdom in the early 1980s led to a ban, forcing people to install home theaters or travel to neighboring countries to enjoy global films.

Saudis have been watching the rebirth of cinema in the Kingdom with growing excitement.

Jeddah student Amani Al-Ghoraibi told Arab News: “It will be a new experience that everyone is ready to embrace.”

Teacher Maha Al-Zahrani said: “Cinemas were only banned because of some hard-liners. All citizens want them back.”

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Three short films from Saudi Arabia selected for global audience in festival

SOURCE: Arab News

April 15, 2018

JEDDAH: Three short films from Saudi Arabia have been selected to screen to a global audience at the first Small Screen, Big Film festival in April
The official shortlist for the festival has been announced, featuring 12 short films created on smartphones by young people across the GCC. The festival takes place via the British Council’s YouTube channel between April 24 and May 4, 2018, when all shortlisted works can be viewed across the globe.
Four standout smartphone filmmakers will be chosen at the end of the festival for a one-to-one mentorship program with a British filmmaker, courtesy of the London Film School.
Three of the shortlisted films were created by talented young people from KSA: “Do it” by Eman Aldweikh; “Fake Life” by Abdullah Zia; and “The Taxi Driver” by Faisal Musa.
Emirati filmmaker and jury member Abdulla Al Kaabi said: “Film is a medium of self-expression and we saw some incredible viewpoints from a hugely diverse group of young people in the Gulf.
“What’s unique about the Small Screen, Big Film Festival is that all entries are created using smartphones. This not only made it easier for more young filmmakers to share their story, but also challenged their creativity to tell a story in three minutes or less.”
Rehana Mughal, senior program manager for culture and sport at the British Council, said: “The Small Screen, Big Film festival has helped us to connect with the themes and topics that interest youth in the Gulf. There is clearly a passion for filmmaking among young people, and we would encourage everyone to experience this for themselves by watching the films online during the Festival.”

Saudi Arabia’s New Movie Theaters ‘Will Not Be Segregated’ by Gender, AMC CEO Says

SOURCE: SFGATE

Time: April 4, 2018

AMC Theatres’ new movie theaters in Saudi Arabia could be truly revolutionary in the Muslim-majority country: by allowing men and women to watch movies together.

“The rules are being written as we speak, but as we understand the theaters will not be segregated,” AMC Theatres CEO Adam Aron told TheWrap on Wednesday. “There may be some showings that will either be for single men or families, but we’re trying a non-segregated approach.”

That would be a remarkable move for a nation where separation of men and women is common in public. The nation’s new leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, only recently decided to lift a longstanding ban on female drivers.

“I really do believe that the Crown Prince deserves all the credit for this,” Aron said at Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority (GEA) Summit at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills during the Saudi ruler’s week-long visit to Hollywood and Silicon Valley.

“He’s the one who wanted the cinemas open,” Aron said. “He’s the one that wants to transform the society. He’s the one who encouraged AMC and [Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund] to team up. He’s the one who encouraged the minister of culture to move quickly. This was his vision and we’re delighted to be part of it.”

AMC, a division of China’s Wanda Group and the world’s largest exhibition company, on Wednesday announced an April 18 opening for its first cinema in a converted symphony hall in Riyadh’s King Abdullah Financial District — with plans to build 40 other theaters in the next five years and 100 by 2030 for an investment of $2 billion.

Aron also credited a “miraculous lucky break” for his company landing the contract to build Saudi Arabia’s first movie theaters in 35 years. Companies such as Empire, Vue, iPic and Cinepolis have also announced plans to build theaters in the country.

“I was at a conference in September in New York with the Saudi Arabian minister of commerce, who told us that the ban was going to be lifted in a few months’ time,” Aron told TheWrap.

That led to meetings with the managing director of the country’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), who became a major partner with AMC by providing connections to seek out potential locations for theaters and other partners, Aron said. “Since then, we’ve done everything together with the PIF. We’re going to own it together.

The deal between AMC and the PIF comes among a flurry of other deals and talks between bin Salman and Hollywood execs at a time when his country’s chief export, oil, is considered to be a diminishing asset.

In January, TheWrap reported that William Morris Endeavor was planning to sell a 5-10 percent minority stake to the crown prince, with the investment coming through the PIF.

On Tuesday evening, after attending a series of larger parties hosted by Brian Grazer and Rupert Murdoch, bin Salman had a more private dinner meeting with Israeli-American media mogul Haim Saban, Republican strategist Dan Senor and private equity media investor Jonathan Nelson.

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