Saudi Arabia ushers in new cinema era with VIP screening of Black Panther
Superhero film shown to dignitaries and industry officials with screens expected to open to the general public next month
Saudi Arabia opened its first commercial cinema in 35 years on Wednesday, showcasing Marvel's Black Panther to senior government officials, dignitaries and select industry figures.
However, the general public must wait a few more weeks before they can catch a film.
Attendance to private screenings this month in Riyadh is by invitation only, with a public opening to follow in May, according to operator AMC Entertainment Holdings.
The viewing serves as a test run on the only screen set up at the venue, a symphony concert hall retrofitted at the King Abdullah Financial District with a screen to meet the debut date announced two weeks ago.
Despite limited access, the screenings mark another milestone under social and economic reforms spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The crown prince, 32, has already eased many restrictions in the last two years, including on public concerts, women driving and gender mixing.
The kingdom banned cinemas in early 1979. However, films have been shown in the kingdom for decades, just not in commercial settings.
In 2017, the government said it would lift the ban as part of ambitious economic and social reforms that include retaining money that Saudis currently spend on entertainment in trips to Dubai, Bahrain and elsewhere.
To serve a population of more than 32 million, most of whom are under the age of 30, authorities plan to set up around 350 cinemas with over 2,500 screens by 2030, which they hope will attract nearly $1 billion in annual ticket sales.
Majid Al Futtaim, the conglomerate behind Ski Dubai and Vox Cinema, expects to obtain a licence to operate screens in the kingdom and 'soon'.
Updated: April 19, 2018 03:52 PM