Cinema makes a comeback in Saudi

Saudi Arabia's first cinema in over 35 years opens with Black Panther

Anticipation had been building since after the authorities announced that Saudi Arabia's first cinema in over three decades would open on Wednesday, but it has been dubbed by the officials that the event at Riyadh's King Abdullah Financial District as a "dry run".

Majid Al Futtaim, the mall-operator behind Ski Dubai, will open a four-screen multiplex cinema in Saudi Arabia after becoming the second company to obtain a license as part of the kingdom's modernisation efforts. However, there would be censorship in the kingdom like there is on television. Saudi Arabia's powerful conservative clerics claimed Western movies did not meet their hard-line interpretations of Islam. The kingdom held its first-ever fashion show last week with a women-only audience. The crown prince is behind measures such as lifting a ban on women driving that will go into effect this summer, and bringing back concerts and other forms of entertainment to satiate the desires of the country's majority young population.

"Welcome to the era when movies can be watched by Saudis not in Bahrain, not in Dubai, not in London. but inside the kingdom", Aron said Wednesday at the launch of the theatre.

It has been an invitation only gala event that comes after the conservative Kingdom lifted the ban on cinemas previous year as part of a far reaching liberalization drive being called as Enlightenment of the Kingdom, for which United States giant AMC Entertainment has been granted the first license to operate movie theaters.

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Most of the planned reforms also have a practical goal like revamping Saudi Arabia's economy in the face of lower oil prices.

The ban was lifted by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose efforts to reform and modernize the conservative country included lifting the ban on women drivers in September of a year ago.

AMC has partnered with a subsidiary of Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund, known as the Public Investment Fund, to build up to 40 AMC cinemas across the country over the next five years.

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.

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Over the past several years, Saudi Arabia has gradually been loosening restrictions on movie screenings, with local film festivals and screenings in makeshift theaters.

Men and women will generally be allowed to sit together in theaters, The Associated Press reports, though some screenings will be reserved for a male-only crowd.

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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