Manama: As Saudis marked the first public screening of a commercial film in more than 35 years, Princess Reema Bint Bandar Bin Sultan Al Saud, the vice president of the Saudi Sports Authority, said that she cherished the momentous event.
“This is a historic moment and I simply cannot fully express how elated I am as my son and I watch a movie in Saudi Arabia,” Reema, who has built an outstanding profile for advocacy of social, development and women’s rights issues, said in a short clip that went viral on Saudi social media on Wednesday evening.
Several commenters took to social media to share their enthusiasm about the watershed event.
“We have been waiting for ages for this special moment and we shall treasure its sweetness,” one user said.
Another insisted that screening movies was the rule, not the exception.
“This is how people anywhere in the world live,” he said.
“What was a mere dream one day has now come true.”
For a user writing under the moniker of “Honest”, the opening of movie theatres was the right decision.
“This is a great step forward. We are gradually becoming a normal society as we were before we had to live a horrible nightmare. No other society in modern times had to bear what we had to go through. We might need years or even decades as we return to normalcy, but we will do it.”
For another user to arrive late is better than not to arrive at all.
“We are finally there, although it did take some time. We Saudis love life and we love arts, movies, plays and music. We want to live our lives and to live them fully,” he said.
One user said that the significance of cinemas in Saudi Arabia should be blown out of proportion.
“Today with all the movies available on the Internet and through satellites, movie theatres do not have a great significance. We should maybe focus on acquiring greater knowledge and technology and keep abreast with advanced nations,” the user posted.
On Wednesday evening, Dr. Awwad Al Awwad, the Minister of Culture and Information, joined a mixed crowd of hundreds of guests, including diplomats and industry experts, at the King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD) in Riyadh, to watch the 2018 Hollywood blockbuster ‘Black Panther’.
Earlier this month, the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Information announced that it granted the first cinema operating licence so that U.S. industry leader AMC Entertainment, the largest theatrical exhibitor in the world, can operate cinemas in Saudi Arabia. AMC will partner with Development and Investment Entertainment Company (DIEC), a wholly owned subsidiary of the Public Investment Fund (PIF). DIEC plans to invest up to SR 10 billion in entertainment projects by 2030.
I know for sure that Saudis are very eager to be able to watch their favourite films here in their own country, as now made possible by Vision 2030. This is a landmark moment in the transformation of Saudi Arabia into a more vibrant economy and society.”
- Dr Awwad Al Awwad | Minister of Culture and Information
The decision to allow commercial cinemas to operate in Saudi Arabia from 2018 was part of the kingdom’s social and economic reform programme under Vision 2030, spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman.
“I know for sure that Saudis are very eager to be able to watch their favourite films here in their own country, as now made possible by Vision 2030,” Al Awwad said on Tuesday. “This is a landmark moment in the transformation of Saudi Arabia into a more vibrant economy and society.”
A further three screens at KAFD’s theatre will open in the third quarter of 2018 and represent the beginning of a partnership that could see 40 or more AMC Cinemas open in Saudi Arabia over the next five years.
The move to allow movie theatres opens up a big domestic market, which could approach up to $1 billion in annual box office sales.
The majority of the Saudi population of 32 million people is under the age of 30, making it the largest potential market for movie-goers in the Arabian Gulf region.
According to Saudi authorities, the kingdom is set to have nearly 350 cinemas, with over 2,500 screens, by 2030.