First Art House Cinema Opens in Saudi Arabia

Credit: Mahmoud Sabbagh
'2001: A Space Odyssey' screening at the launch of the ElHoush Cinema in Jeddah

Jeddah's open-air Elhoush Cinema launches with a screening of '2001: A Space Odyssey.'

Saudi Arabia has welcomed its first art house cinema. 

The open-air Elhoush Cinema — which can seat 75 people — opened to a packed house Tuesday night in the coastal city of Jeddah with the screening of Stanley Kubrick's groundbreaking epic 2001: A Space Odyssey. 

The initiative is the brainchild of Saudi director Mahmoud Sabbagh, the filmmaker behind the Berlinale-bowing comedy Barakah Meets Barakah and last year's Amra and the Second Marriage. Sabbagh is also the director and CEO of the recently announced Red Sea Film Festival, which is set to have its inaugural edition in Jeddah in 2020. 

Elhoush — a pop-up theater in Jeddah's old town — was named after Sabbagh's own Elhoush production company. The filmmaker said he wanted to "pay homage" to the city's old outdoor courtyard cinemas ("housh" means "courtyard" in Arabic) that were open prior to 1978. Antoine Khalife is the cinema's programmer, while Zainab Al Mashat is the project manager.

The addition of Elhoush brings the number of screens in Saudi to almost 50. AMC Theatres also has one in Riyadh, which made history in April 2018 with the screening of Black Panther, ending a 35-year ban on public cinemas. The rest are operated by regional giant Vox, which has theaters in both Riyadh and Jeddah, including two Imax screens. 

Following 2001: A Space Odyssey, which will get one more screening, Elhoush will be putting on several showings of a more recent hit, Hirokazu Kore-eda's 2018 Palme d'Or-winning Shoplifters.