Lifting the 35-year-old long ban on cinemas in the conservative Islamic kingdom, Saudi Arabia began screening feature-length animated children’s films as what can be seen as the makeshift theatre.
Part of the liberalising reform drive in the Saudi Arabia, the first permanent theatres could open as early as March. Saudi Arabia has already opened their gates to concerts, comedy shows, and women drivers over the past year.
As of now, the authorities are pushing on the temporary settings, like the state-run cultural hall in the Red Sea city of Jeddah which is equipped with a projector, a red carpet and a popcorn machine.
“Until now, there is no infrastructure for movie theatres, so we are trying to take advantage of (alternative) venues to approximate the cinematic form,” said Mamdouh Salim, whose Cinema 70 brand organized the week-long screenings.
“We tried to use these films to be a starting point as the first cinematic screening after the decision on Dec. 11 to permit movie theatres.”
Cinemas in Saudi Arabia faced the ban as-early-as in the 1980s under pressure from Islamists as Saudi society turned towards a particularly conservative form of religion that discouraged public entertainment and public mixing between men and women.
After watching The Emoji Movie with his wife and daughter on Sunday evening, 28-year-old Sultan al-Otaibi said Saudis are happy to see movies in the theatre instead of staying at home.
“It’s more comfortable, more fun to have a change of scenery and an activity on the weekend. It is a step that was very late in coming but thanks God it’s happening now.”
The authorities expect to open 300 cinemas with 2,000 screens by 2030, building an industry it hopes will contribute more than 90 billion riyals ($24 billion) to the economy and create 30,000 permanent jobs.