Time: April 28, 2018
RIYADH: My husband and I took our boys to watch the world premiere of “Avengers: Infinity War”… in Riyadh! I honestly never thought I’d say this, yet Thursday night was one of the most memorable nights out.
Before entering the new AMC cinema in King Abdullah Financial District, we passed the security check.
They gave us wrist bracelets, which had written on them in Arabic: “I’m at the movies, and you aren’t!” A humorous marketing attempt to entice people to come to the cinema.
The building itself is impressive: Hgh ceilings and modern facilities over four levels.
“It’s like we’re in Dubai,” remarked one moviegoer to their companion.
The design of the cinema building inside-out is outstanding: Such architectural elegance is befitting the historic reopening of cinemas in Saudi, after 35 years in the dark.
While Marvel’s “Black Panther” was the first film to open in the new AMC cinema on April 18, followed by sell-out screenings, on Thursday the Kingdom got its first actual new release, another Marvel movie predicted to set box-office records worldwide: “Avengers: Infinity War.”
Sounds of laughter
Once entering the building, we were welcomed by the buttery smell of popcorn and sounds of laughter and giggles. It was a night out at the cinema, after all.
Soft drinks could be bought at a stand alongside butter and caramel popcorn. People queued in a straight line, waiting for their snacks. The cinema columns carried quotes from famous movies. One read: “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.” (“The Godfather,” 1972.)
A moviegoer who wanted to remain anonymous said this was her first time to attend the cinema. “I’ve never been to the movies before or traveled abroad,” she said.
“I’m extremely excited and so thrilled that my brother brought me here today.”
The young lady was taking selfies and pictures of the building while her brother bought refreshments and popcorn.
This was not the first movie night for Saudi Arabia, of course.
From my parents’ recollections, 40 years ago, families and singles would go out for a night of fun and watch movies that would screen in the open air in downtown Jeddah Al-Balad. Segregation at that time was not the norm.
Simple chairs were arranged in front of a white sheet or whitewashed wall with the film projected onto them. Egyptian and Indian films were aired and laughs could be heard from across the street.
The Al-Attas theater located in Obhur was considered the fancy screening venue: It had air-conditioning and families opted to go there together, even though it was a bit more expensive.
As my children’s 80-year-old grandmother, Madiha Jouharji, exclaimed: “Finally, the movies are back again. I have fond memories of going as a young girl.”
The reopening of the cinemas is just a reminder of what we had and what we will bring back; entertainment for the whole family to enjoy together.
And that is just what I experienced on Thursday: People living in Riyadh enjoying a film, interacting together and having an all round good time. With no rules broken, no moral ethics hindered. Irrefutable proof that we can live normal lives and enjoy basic entertainment.
One of the most incredible moments was the interactions inside the theater: Laughter, applause and all-around joy. We sat next to a lovely couple, newlyweds, who held hands and laughed together. The lady wore a niqab, her husband a thobe and headdress.
While on our other side were two young boys in jeans and T-shirts. I thought to myself: what a wonderfully versatile city we live in.
After the movie, people rushed out excitedly, talking about what a great movie it was. “It was very well organized,” said Sara Al-Saadoun. “Never in a million years would I have thought to say that I’m going to the movies in Riyadh.” I couldn’t agree more. Never.
While leaving the theater, we discussed the film and each had their opinion. My 14-year-old kept analyzing the cliffhanger ending, while my 11-year-old, who slept through half the movie, asked if we could go again the next day because he missed half of it.
The reopening of cinemas is part of Vision 2030. It’s a vision that decidedly brings together families. It’s a vision that implements the importance of spending time together and not apart. And in that sense, it’s mission accomplished.
In another 40 years, my kids will be able to tell the tale to their grandchildren, about how they were among the first people to attend the reopening of the cinema in Saudi Arabia.