Saudia, April 18 (TNS): Action flick ” Black Panther” will be shown at a cinema on Wednesday as part of test screening in Saudi Arabia.The movie theatres will open next month to the wider public of the country.
A 35-year ban on cinemas was lifted in the conservative country last year as part of increasing liberalisation drive, the US production company AMC were granted first licence to operate cinemas. Anticipation had been building after the authorities announced earlier this month that Saudi Arabia’s first cinema in over three decades would open on Wednesday in Riyadh.
But officials this week said it would be a test screening at the new cinema in the King Abdullah Financial District and movie theatres are expected to open to the public in May.
AMC Entertainment, whose chief executive Adam Aron will attend Wednesday’s screening, signed a non-binding agreement in December with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund to build and operate cinemas across the kingdom.
Saudi state media has said the company expects to open 40 cinemas across 15 Saudi cities over the next five years.
International theatre chains have long eyed the kingdom as the Middle East’s last untapped mass market of more than 30 million people, the majority of whom are under 25.
AMC will still face stiff competition from other heavyweights including Dubai-based VOX Cinemas, the leading operator in the Middle East.
The move to reopen cinemas is part of a modernisation drive by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is seeking to balance unpopular subsidy cuts in an era of low oil prices with more entertainment options — despite opposition from religious hardliners.
Long known for its ultra-conservative mores, the kingdom has embarked on a wide-ranging programme of social reforms that includes boosting sports and entertainment and allowing women to drive from June.
In February, Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority announced it will stage more than 5,000 festivals and concerts in 2018, double the number of last year, and pump $64 billion in the sector in the coming decade.
The reform stems partly from an economic motive to boost domestic spending on entertainment as the kingdom reels from an oil slump since 2014.