Saudi Arabia Lifts Ban on Cinemas

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Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Theaters are expected to open in 2018 for the first time in 35 years, following a statement from the Minister of Culture.

Cinemas are expected to return to Saudi Arabia for the first time in 35 years. 

The Kingdom — undergoing seismic changes under new Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — made the announcement Monday. 

"As the industry regulator, the General Commission for Audiovisual Media has started the process for licensing cinemas in the Kingdom," Minister of Culture and Information Awwad bin Saleh Alawwad said in a statement. "We expect the first cinemas to open in March 2018.”

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, many insiders working in Saudi Arabia indicated that this move had been widely expected, with investors already having built cinemas within new developments in anticipation of the official announcement.

“This marks a watershed moment in the development of the cultural economy in the kingdom,” Alawwad added. "Opening cinemas will act as a catalyst for economic growth and diversification. By developing the broader cultural sector, we will create new employment and training opportunities, as well as [enrich] the kingdom’s entertainment options.”

More details are expected in the coming weeks. 

The National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) praised the news. "For nearly four decades the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has not permitted the operation of movie cinemas. Today, under the leadership and vision of HRH Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, cinema will return to the Kingdom," it said. "Several NATO member companies have developed extensive plans for cinemas in the Kingdom and stand ready to develop luxurious and cutting-edge movie theaters for all Saudis to enjoy."

It added: "Led by NATO president & CEO John Fithian, a delegation from the association has been in Riyadh over the past week meeting with various government officials in anticipation of this announcement. Meeting with officials in the General Entertainment Authority and the Ministry of Information, the NATO team helped to facilitate the government’s support and proper regulation of the nascent industry."

Said Fithian: "We are excited to witness the opening of the Saudi cinema market. Movies are one of the great shared pleasures that highlight our common humanity. The growing and young population of the Kingdom is hungry for the cinematic experience. We anticipate that the Saudi market will grow quickly."

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