Saudi Arabia Unveils $35 Billion Cinema Investment Plans

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Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

The country hopes to have 2,500 screens open over the next five years.

Saudi Arabia's emerging cinema scene was given a boost on Thursday, following an announcement by the government to invest some $35 billion in theaters by 2020.

The investment, unveiled by the General Commission for Audiovisual Media, which issues cinema licenses, will be focused on the cities of Riyadh, Dammam and Jeddah, with the aim of having some 2,500 screens opened in the country over the next five years. 

The news comes after a period of uncertainty for the Kingdom, where there had been a flurry of interest from international chains after it announced it was lifting a 35-year ban on cinemas in December 2017. AMC opened the first public cinema in April of last year, but there are still fewer than 40 screens opened across the country, the rest by regional giant Vox Cinemas. 

Speaking at CinemaCon, National Association of Cinema Owners chief John Fithian revealed that at least two more chains were chasing licenses to operate in Saudi Arabia.

European heavyweight Vue, which was among the first to announce plans to invest in early 2018, revealed that, in the wake of the Jamal Khashoggi scandal, which erupted late last year, it was putting its Saudi investments on ice and confirmed this week that there would be no movements this year. AMC, however, confirmed at CinemaCon that it was proceeding, with hopes to open 10 cinemas by the end of 2019. 

The $35 billion announcement comes just a week after Saudi Arabia officially opened its first Ministry of Culture and with it a number of film initiatives, including a new film festival set to launch next year in Jeddah.