March has been set as the month that permanent theatres will open in Saudi Arabia, following the rescinding of an almost four-decade-old ban on public cinemas. For now, though, Saudi Arabia has already began screening feature-length films such as “The Emoji Movie” and “Captain Underpants” at a makeshift theatre in Jeddah.
“The Emoji Movie” is a story about the never-before-seen secret world called Textopolis, where all our favorite emojis live, hoping to be selected by the phone's user. “Captain Underpants” is a comedy about two students who hypnotize their principal into thinking he’s a superhero.
Moviegoers flocked to the cultural-space-turned-cinema, which was fitted with a projector and popcorn machine just for the occasion. The hall accommodates 130 people where men, women, and children can sit together, a marked change from previous years where public spaces had segregated sections for men and women.
Many of the scheduled screenings sold out quickly, with people adding their names to a waiting list. According to CNNMoney, Mamdouh Salem, organizer of the festival and CEO of Cinema 70, a Saudi movie producer and distributor, explained that they had chosen to go with animation films that were suitable for families.
“There is also acceptance of such movies as the first to be screened since the decision to allow cinemas,” he explained.
“The society is really happy. Some have watched the movies before outside Saudi Arabia but want to experience it in Saudi with their family […] We've got popcorn, we've got a red carpet. We've really tried to create a complete movie experience for those attending,” Salem continued.
Lifting the ban on cinemas across the Kingdom falls under the objectives of Vision 2030, a national strategy led by 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman that aims to diversify and open up the Saudi Arabia’s current oil-dependent economy, and ease many social restrictions in the process.
According to Gulf News, the Saudi government is looking to create more jobs by expanding its entertainment sector and retain money spent by thousands of Saudi Arabians who currently travel to Bahrain, the UAE, and other nearby countries for entertainment.