Saudi Arabia took center stage at the Second edition of the MENA Cinema Forum which opened its doors at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Dubai on October 28th. The cinema business is returning to the Kingdom after theaters were banned for decades.
Among the 500 film industry attendees were mall owners, cinema operators and technology providers. Most of them were particularly excited to venture into the new Saudi market.
Mark Luden, CEO of the Guitammer Company, is a business that provides active seating to cinemas said that ““Saudi Arabia is like China. They’re a new demographic that is more likely to adopt new technologies than Europe or America. People who supply cinema are excited.”
The biggest delegations that were present at the MENA cinema forum were from AMC and VOX Cinema, the two companies that have helped bring cinemas to Saudi Arabia.
VOX Cinemas, which is owned by Emirati conglomerate Majid Al Futtaim, announced that it would be investing $100 million in Saudi Arabia in 2019 alone, with the aim of building 600 screens in the kingdom by 2022, CEO Cameron Mitchell said during a presentation.
Mitchell said the cinema chain will inaugurate its second multiplex in the Kingdom in early 2019, noting that it would include mega-screen MAX, KIDS, and luxury cinema theatre.
Cinemas in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia were banned in the early 1980s with the rise of ultra-conservative sentiments.
In recent months, the Kingdom has participated in a sequence of economic and social changes such as lifting the ban on women’s driving, allowing women to establish businesses without a male guardian and most recently, lifting the ban on cinemas in the Kingdom. The first multiplex cinema of Riyadh opened its doors last April.
Prior to the lifting of the ban, a large number of movie enthusiasts traveled to neighboring countries to experience movies on the big screen. The trend became increasingly prominent and was later named ‘cinema tourism’.
“There were so many Saudi Arabian people that were really passionate about film and couldn’t even go to the movies, and not all of them could travel,” said Raheed Allaf, a Saudi film enthusiast living in Dubai. “This opens up an opportunity for so many aspiring filmmakers and dreamers who can finally go to the movies now.”