Tickets sold in 15 minutes as cinema returns to Riyadh

by Linda Olson April 23, 2018, 5:42
Tickets sold in 15 minutes as cinema returns to Riyadh

The Development and Investment Entertainment Company (DIEC), a wholly owned subsidiary of Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF), will oversee the historic launch of the Kingdom's first public cinema in collaboration with AMC Entertainment at a newly set up cinema complex at King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD) in Riyadh. Its new cinema, the first multiplex in Saudi Arabia, will open at Riyadh Park Mall in the coming days.

The company expects to open 40 cinemas across 15 Saudi cities over the next five years, Saudi state media said. It'll likely be joined by other operators including Vue and iPic in the coming months as the gold rush to take advantage of an untapped market estimated to be worth some $1 billion heats up. "They no longer have to travel outside the Kingdom to go to the movies". Saudi Arabia's powerful conservative clerics claimed Western movies did not meet their hard-line interpretations of Islam. "VOX Cinemas will join a growing stable of Majid Al Futtaim's leading retail, leisure and entertainment brands operating across the Kingdom". Promised reforms include allowing Saudi women to drive, the continued showing of movies subject to government approval, and allowing men and women to attend fashion shows.

Despite decades of ultraconservative dogma, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has pushed through a number of major social reforms with support from his father, King Salman, to satiate the desires of the country's majority young population.

The invitation-only gala event comes after the conservative kingdom lifted the ban on cinemas past year as part of a far-reaching liberalisation drive, with U.S. giant AMC Entertainment granted the first licence to operate movie theatres. The goal over the coming years is to reduce Saudi's economic reliance on oil. Through its partnership with 20th Century Fox, the distribution arm of Majid Al Futtaim Cinemas will also be exclusively distributing Fox content to all cinemas across Saudi Arabia.

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The Saudi government projects that the opening of movie theaters will contribute more than $24 billion to the economy and create more than 30,000 jobs by 2030. Though the premiere featured men and women sitting together, it is unclear whether future screenings will segregate the audience by gender.

AMC Entertainment signed a non-binding agreement in December to build and operate cinemas across the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia had already started gradually loosening restrictions on movie screenings in the past few years, with local film festivals and screenings in makeshift theaters.

Saudi Minister of Culture and Information Awwad Alawwad told The Associated Press the government aims to strike a balance between the country's Islamic mores and people's movie experiences.

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