Saudi Arabia's First Movie Theater Since The 1980s Opens With 'Black Panther'

A red carpet invitation-only gala event attracted senior government officials, foreign dignitaries and select industry figures to watch Marvel's superhero movie "Black Panther" on a 45-foot screen at a converted symphony concert hall in Riyadh.

Vox, part of the giant Majid Al Futtaim conglomerate, has said it plans to open 600 screens over the next five years across Saudi Arabia.

It was a full house on Friday night in the Saudi capital Riyadh at the country's first cinema as the first public screening of a commercial film in more than three decades took place.

MAF Ventures, which has a total of 300 screens in the region with only 150 are in its malls, is talking to developers in Saudi Arabia to find locations for its cinemas, Ahmed Ismail, its chief executive told The National on April 15.

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.

The conservative kingdom lifted a 35-year ban on cinemas last year as part of a far-reaching liberalisation drive, with United States giant AMC Entertainment granted the first licence to operate movie theatres. The screening will be followed by a rush to build movie theaters in major cities.

VOX brings the first IMAX, but also movie-going know-how, from the concession stand to the seating and the big screen.

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 previous year.

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. However, after crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman's modernisation drive entertainment was given more importance. The growth of the exhibition sector is expected to create around 30,000 permanent jobs and some 130,000 temporary positions, by 2030.

An AMC official said the movie chain could possibly release the much-anticipated thriller "Avengers: Infinity War" at the cinema next week, around the same time as its global release.

"The restoration of cinemas will ... help boost the local economy by increasing household spending on entertainment while supporting job creation in the Kingdom", Culture and Information Minister Awwad Alawwad said in a statement.

"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.


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