Saudi cinema launch ends 40-year ban

Saudi cinema launch ends 40-year ban

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir reaffirmed on Tuesday the kingdom's willingness to deploy troops to Syria as part of US-led efforts to stabilise the conflict-torn country.

Tickets will go on sale on Thursday for the first public viewings on Friday, according to Adam Aron, chief executive of operator AMC Entertainment Holdings.

"This is a landmark moment in the transformation of Saudi Arabia into a more vibrant economy and society. We heard that the kingdom of Saudi Arabia was thinking about lifting its ban on movie theaters, and we rushed in".

"It will be the first in a series of test screenings, attended by industry specialists, that will be held... to support final preparations for the opening of the cinema to the wider public", the information ministry's Center for International Communication said.

The government hopes that opening movie theaters will act as a catalyst for economic growth and diversification, creating new employment opportunities and providing Saudis with a greater range of entertainment options.

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

"Saudis now are going to be able to go to a handsome theater and watch movies the way they're supposed to be watched: on a big screen", he told Reuters ahead of the screening.

The government announced past year that women would be allowed to drive and to attend events in sports stadiums.

Access to streaming services, such as Netflix, and satellite TV steadily eroded attempts by the government to censor what the Saudi public could view.

Saudi writer and dissident Jamal Khashoggi describes the theaters of the 1970s as being "like American drive-ins, except much more informal". By 2013, the film "Wadjda" made history by becoming the first Academy Award entry for Saudi Arabia, though it wasn't nominated for the Oscars.

The gala screening of the Hollywood blockbuster Black Panther was attended by hundreds of invited guests in the sleek and chic complex - described by AMC cinema chain bosses as "the most lovely movie theater in the world".

In addition, global entertainment companies are entering the market to operate venues and cinemas.

Cinema has always played an important role in bringing cultures together and Saudi Arabia is ready to play its part.

Supervisor of the cinema sector in Saudi Arabia, Badr Al-Zahrani, said: "The commission has worked a lot during the past months to coordinate with different parties including municipal and rural affairs as well as customs and civil defence to organise the investors' entry to the market". Scenes of violence are not cut, but scenes involving nudity, sex or even kissing are often deleted.

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