A kingdom comes into immense wealth thanks to a rare commodity. The rulers make the country invisible, force it into isolation. The heir to the throne comes with superhero powers, fights off the enemies and wants to lead the people and the country into the modern future.
“black panther,” the first film to be shown publicly in saudi arabia in more than 35 years, was probably not chosen for the premiere by chance.
People in saudi arabia have waited a long time for this day to finally go to the movies again. “i used to book trips to dubai or bahrain and go to the movies there,” says dalal al-dakhil, who was selected to be among the premiere guests. “I actually live in Jeddah, but I bought a plane ticket to see the film.”
the opening is pompous, like many things in saudi arabia. The hall was originally intended to be used for symphony concerts, but after the decision to allow cinemas again in the Arab kingdom, the glass complex was quickly repurposed. Seats are still missing in two other halls.
The red carpet is rolled out, figures from earlier blockbusters greet the guests. Mime artists and charlie chaplin are part of it. Famous movie quotes are written on the columns in the lobby. “i”m making him an offer he can”t refuse” from “the godfather” or from “12 years a slave”: “i don”t want to survive, i want to live.”
Minister of Culture awwad al-awwad spoke of an "important moment" in light of the return of cinema for the modern history of saudi arabia and cultural life in the country. "we are implementing an important step in our promise to improve the lives of everyone in the kingdom." this is one of the central pillars of "vision 2030.
This is an ambitious reform plan, driven in particular by the young crown prince, mohammed bin salman. The oil monarchy, where around 70 percent of the population is under 30 years of age, is to become less dependent on oil and further differentiate its economy. But this also includes social changes.
Because in the West, Saudi Arabia stands above all for veiled women, public floggings and the strict interpretation of Islam. This also prohibits amusements such as cinemas or concerts. Until a few years ago, life took place almost exclusively behind closed doors. But that seems to be over in a phase of opening up the country.
The 32-year-old "mbs," as the crown prince is known by many, is considered the driving force of change. Starting this summer, women will be allowed to drive cars. The changes are based on a calculation: they are part of the gigantic economic restructuring of "vision 2030". because prince mohammed needs the support of the whole society for it and above all also the well trained women, who are dependent on a driver so far.
The image of the crown prince being celebrated for his courage is only one side of the story. The federal intelligence service warned of his impulsiveness as early as 2015. Foreign policy became unpredictable and aggressive under the influence of "mbs. For example, the devastating escalation of the Yemen war is due to mohammed bin salman.
But it"s not just about modernity and culture. Behind the opening of the cinemas are also hard economic interests, as culture minister al-awwad said. "the reopening of the cinemas will help boost the local economy by getting private households to spend more on entertainment, while also supporting job creation in the kingdom."
Those responsible hope that the opening of the cinemas will generate around one billion U.S. dollars (about 807 million euros) in revenue each year. In the coming years, more than 350 cinemas are to be built throughout Saudi Arabia. All large multiplex cinemas with around 2,500 screens.
umm salem also came to the premiere – with a face veil and a long dress. The 50-year-old is in a cinema for the first time, as she recounts. "I would call myself conservative," she says, "but cinemas are not for liberals and young people. I, too, am always looking for a place to go with my family."
A mixed audience at the premiere. Also a novelty in the ultraconservative kingdom. Just a few weeks ago, women and men were allowed to watch a soccer match together in a stadium. However, probably an exception at first. In the near future, according to dpa information, there will first be separate screenings for "families" and "singles", i.e. separated by gender. But the long-term goal is mixed screenings.
At the premiere, the Minister of Culture made it clear that the film would initially be a public test run for a hand-picked audience. In the coming days, it will be announced how ticket sales will be handled in the future. After that, all saudis will be able to go to the movies for around ten euros a ticket.
A special commission decides which films will be shown. She works closely with film distributors and cinema operators and has created a framework for classifying films.
Saudi director haifaa al-mansur also hopes for new impetus. In 2012, she made "the girl wadjda," the first film from the kingdom to be nominated for an oscar. "now i’m going to start a production company in saudi arabia," she says.
the country is still conservative, says al-mansur, but people want a "normal life. "the girl wadjda" was shown all over the world. Al-mansur tells the story of a girl who rebels against rigid social conventions. Soon it may also be shown in cinemas in their home country for the first time.