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Roll Camera Action: The revival of Saudi Arabian cinema

19 April 2018

On April 18, 2018, at about 9 pm in Riyadh, around 600 guests will sit down in a refitted conference hall in the King Abdullah Financial District as the big screens showcase the major cultural landmark, the Marvel superhero blockbuster - Black Panther.

Over the past several years, Saudi Arabia has gradually been loosening restrictions on movie screenings, with local film festivals and screenings in makeshift theatres. Antonio Guterres commended the cooperation between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Nations in many regional and worldwide issues, stressing that this cooperation has become a fundamental principle of our work, SPA reported.

Attendance to private screenings this month in Riyadh is by invitation only, with a public opening to follow in May, according to operator AMC Entertainment Holdings. The kingdom held its first-ever fashion show last week with a women-only audience.

As per earlier decision between the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia (PIF) and the American theatrical exhibitor AMC, 30 more cinemas to be opened in 15 different cities in the Kingdom over the next five years.

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Yet Saudis have been avid consumers of Western media and culture.

It's a stark reversal for a county where public movie screenings were banned in the 1980's during a wave of ultraconservatism that swept Saudi Arabia.

In 2017, the government said it would lift the ban as part of ambitious economic and social reforms that include retaining money that Saudis now spend on entertainment in trips to Dubai, Bahrain and elsewhere.

To serve a population of more than 32 million, most of whom are under the age of 30, the authorities plan to set up around 350 cinemas with over 2,500 screens by 2030, which they hope will attract almost $US1 billion ($NZ1.3 billion) in annual ticket sales.

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By 2030, the kingdom expects to have 350 theaters.

Initial screenings are likely to be for families with some occasional ones for bachelors. Some also view cinema and acting, as a form of dissembling, as inconsistent with Islam. "I want to express my deep gratitude to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its generous support to the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre, a support without which the Centre, would probably never have been able to be born", the UN Secretary-General said.

"For those that would like to come and enjoy watching the movie at the movie theater, they are more than welcome", he said.

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Roll Camera Action: The revival of Saudi Arabian cinema