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Saudi Arabia: The return of public cinemas?

Public cinemas have been banned in Saudi Arabia for the last 30 years, and if residents of the kingdom want to watch films on the big screen, they travel to nearby Bahrain or the UAE. However, last week in Jeddah a film was screened publicly for a mixed-sex audience. In this post we hear what Saudi blogs have to say on the subject.

John Burgess at Crossroads Arabia says:

Saudi Gazette reports that public cinema is back in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi film ‘Manahi’ was shown before a mixed-sex audience in Jeddah, and also in Taif. The article points out that the film showing was part of the Eid Al-Adha celebrations in the city, so I’m not sure—and the article does not make clear—whether the cinema wil l remain operational after the holidays. Nor does the article spell it out, but it’s pretty clear that this would not have happened without the support of the Governor of the Mecca Province, Prince Khaled Al-Faisal. Prince Khaled has the power to force certain kinds of change within his area of authority and has shown a willingness to do so.

Young Saudis are hoping that this is a permanent change as they’re tired of having to travel to foreign countries simply to watch a film on the big screen.

Ruhsa welcomes the move:

Cinemas are officially banned in KSA and people go over to Bahrain or UAE to watch movies in person (or buy pirated versions of all movies for home viewing).

Interestingly, last week the movie “Manahi” was shown in Jeddah and Taif. It was a HUGELY successful and popular event that ran for some 10 days. The head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, Abdullah Al-Gaith spoke out against it: “Our position on this is clear – ban it. That is because cinema is evil and we do not need it. We have enough evil already.”

What is odd is the about-face that showed up in today’s news. The official comment is now “We are not against having cinema if it shows the good and does not violate Islamic law”.

“Manahi” was produced by Rotana Holdings, a media company owned by Prince Waleed bin Talal. The next movie,“Eyal Manfouha,” also by Rotana is already in the works.

This is one more indicator that the wind of change is blowing. It would be better if KSA started developing a good media/movie censoring/cleaning-up board that can set standards for what can and cannot be shown, and how to allow movies from Europe, USA and Asia to be shown.

Close Up comments on the film itself – and sees a future for Saudi filmmaking:

فكرة المبادرة فيلم “مناحي” تستحق التحية والتقدير، رغم أنني أعتقد أنه لايتجاوز في مضمونه التهريج الكوميدي “الماصل” .. ومن قبله فيلم العلاقات العامة “كيف الحال؟” الذي شاهده السعوديون في سينما البحرين بكل سخرية وامتعاض ..

ومع ذلك أعتقد أن في مجتمعنا شباب مبدع واعد قادر على تقديم أعمال سينمائية قديرة تنبع من عمق روحنا وهويتنا، بكاميرا واحدة وطاقم صغير يقوم بجميع الأدوار يكتب ويصور ويمثل ويمنتج !

The idea behind the “Manahi” film initiative deserves acknowledgement and appreciation, though I don’t believe its content transcends the slapstick comedy “Al Masil”, or the public relations film “Kaif Al Hal?” [billed as the first Saudi feature film] which Saudis viewed in Bahraini cinemas with ridicule and disgust.

However, I do believe that in our society there are creative and promising young people who can make cinematic works capable of emanating from the depths of our soul and identity, with one camera and a small crew, taking on all roles – writing, filming, acting, and producing!

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