Saudi Arabia Is Lifting Its 35-Year Ban On Cinemas And Locals Can't Wait

Saudi Arabia has just announced its plans to start allowing cinemas to re-open in the conservative kingdom, for the first time in more than 35 years.

Residents from the Arabian Peninsula, who have dubbed the move as "spectacular news", could have the chance to grab a film and some popcorn as-early-as 2018.

(Image: Annca Schweiz via Pixabay)

The Saudi Government says opening cinemas could contribute more than 90 billion riyals ($24 billion) to the economy – and create over 30,000 jobs by 2030.

It claims there will be 300 cinemas with around 200 screens built by 2030.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman wants the decision to pave the way for a new era of commercial cinemas, with the first expected to open in March 2018.

It is the latest stark reversal of policies in the country, where cinemas were shut down amid the 1980s during a wave of ultra-conservatism.

At this time, many Saudi clerics saw Western movies and even Arabic films from Egypt and Lebanon as sinful.

But Salman, who has also lifted a ban on women driving, wants to bring cinemas back; and kickstart the entertainment scene for the country's majority young population.

And many Saudis have already taken to Twitter to express their joy, posting positive words and popcorn GIFs.

"It's spectacular news. We are in a state of shock," said Hisham Fageeh, a Saudi actor and producer who worked on Barakah Meets Barakah with Director Mahmoud Sabbagh last yeah.

The film, which premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival, tells the story of a civil servant who falls in love with a girl whose Instagram posts have made her a celebrity.

It has been dubbed Saudi Arabia's first romantic comedy.

During the decades of ultraconservative dogma, Saudi filmmakers and movie buffs were will able to stream films online and many travelled to cinemas in nearby countries for new released.

Despite there being no cinemas, young filmmakers have also received Government support and recognition in recent years – spawning some 60 Saudi film screenings in Dhahran.

It's not immediately clear whether major Hollywood, Bollywood and Arabic movie releases will be shown in cinemas, or if the cinemas will be segregated, the Press Association reports.

While there is a concern about censorship, Fageeh says that scenes of violence are typically permitted on-screen but "any kind of intimacy and love is considered taboo".

"It's a global conversation we need to have," he adds.

Writer and photographer from South London, UK. If you want to get in touch please email me at: matthew.kirby@konbini.com