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Grand Opening: Saudi Cinema’s Monumental Return

April 18th 2018, opening night in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

An excited audience walked a red carpet, got popcorn and soda and sat down for a screening of a feature length Hollywood movie.

A common activity across the world, but a monumental moment in entertainment for Saudi Arabia at the country’s first opening of a commercial movie theatre in nearly 4 decades.

The screening was an invitation only event and was part of a wider social opening in the ultra-conservative kingdom, advocated by Saudi Arabia’s young leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The 32 year old has a vision to eradicate the Arab country’s reputation of oil and religious extremism, and wants to encourage a more enjoyable lifestyle for the younger generations of Saudi citizens who want to be liberated from the kingdom’s strict religious rules.

April 18th’s red carpet event attracted senior government officials and industry figures to watch a Marvel superhero movie, Black Panther, on a 45-foot screen at a converted symphony hall in the capital city of Riyadh.

The first public viewings are set to take place on Friday 20th of April, according to Adam Aron, chief executive of operator AMC Entertainment Holdings, who told Reuters, “Saudis now are going to be able to go to a beautiful theater and watch movies the way they’re supposed to be watched: on a big screen.”

Guests of the first screening of a film in 35 years, consumed popcorn and cheered and applauded as confetti rained down through the multi-storey atrium where Adam Aron and Saudi Minister of Culture and Information Awwad al-Awwad pronounced the launch and continued into the 450-seat hall.

Attendees showing their enthusiasm for the prospect of cinemas opening across the kingdom included government ministers, social media stars and at least one Saudi princess.

Fouz al-Thiyabi, the vice principal of a girls’ elementary school, who attended the event with a girlfriend told Arab News, “We are very happy, they should have done this a long time ago.”

This inaugural moment in Saudi history marks a milestone for the reforms that are being led by MBS in order to diversify the country, culturally and economically.

Saudi’s entertainment industry is set to soar in the coming months with the country easing restrictions on public concerts, women driving as well as easing up on gender segregation.

By expanding these entertainment opportunities, the country hopes to see a boost in the economy whilst encouraging Saudi citizens to have more fun in their home country instead of having to travel abroad to enjoy cinemas and theatres.

Photography: Ahmad Fathi

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