Saudi Arabia Lifts Cinema Ban and, according to The Hollywood Reporter, “it’s not every day that a previously untapped market valued at $1 billion opens its doors, so the decision by Saudi Arabia to lift its 35-year ban on cinemas [has seen] a flurry of excitement far and wide.”
The Saudi government plans to have more than 2,000 screens running by 2030 with the first cinemas scheduled to open on March 2018. AMC Theatres, Vox (the Middle East’s largest operator), IMAX and Kuwaiti National Cinema Company all are reported to be exploring building cinemas in the country.
While the Middle East has for years struggled with issues of censorship, Saudi Arabia is viewed as the most rigid. “During the DVD days, censorship was quite tough,” says Gianluca Chakra, head of Dubai-based regional distributor Front Row, saying that the policy was largely “no nudity, no skin, no politics, no sex, no religion.” Mr. Chakra adds that “the message Saudi Arabia is trying to give is one of modernization and we’re sure things would now be different. I’m hoping we all get called to collaborate with authorities, hopefully coming up with a local MPAA or BBFC kind of ratings system.”
For a nation with no cinemas, the Saudi film industry has been pretty none-existent though Musab Alamri, a U.K.-based Saudi filmmaker, says that “most people in Saudi Arabia are big fans of Hollywood movies.” That said, there have been a few standouts of Saudi cinema in the last few years, most notably Haifaa al-Mansour (the country’s first female director) who rose to international acclaim for her directorial debut Wadjda (which was also the first film to be entirely shot within the Kingdom). Ms. Al-Mansour says she is excited and encouraged about the news of the cinema ban lifting. “As filmmakers, it will give our work an incredible boost. I cannot wait to see my films advertised on a marquee in my home country. It is a dream I have had my entire life, and one I can’t believe we are finally so close to realizing.”