Introducing Elhoush: Saudi Arabia welcomes its first arthouse cinema

The Jeddah movie-house opened with a packed screening of '2001: A Space Odyssey'

Gary Lockwood and Keir Dullea in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures
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Saudi Arabia’s first arthouse cinema, the open-air Elhoush Cinema, has opened its doors in the coastal city of Jeddah.

The 75-seat cinema launched with a full house on Tuesday night, with guests watching a screening of Stanley Kubrick's ground-breaking 1968 sci-fi classic, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The theatre is the creation of Saudi director Mahmoud Sabbagh, the man behind the romantic comedy Barakah Meets Barakah, which in 2016 became the Kingdom's second-ever Oscars submission. Sabbagh also directed last year's Amra and the Second Marriage, which debuted at the BFI London Film Festival 2018.

Elhoush, which means “courtyard” in Arabic, was named in reference to the old courtyard cinemas that existed in Jeddah prior to the banning of public screenings in the Seventies. The cinema also shares its name with Sabbagh’s own Elhoush production company.

Former Dubai International Film Festival programmer Antoine Khalife is working alongside Sabbagh as Elhoush's head of programming, while Zainab Al Mashat, who previously acted as production manager on Barakah, is the project manager.

Sabbagh was also recently named as the director and CEO of the forthcoming Red Sea Film Festival, which will have its inaugural edition in Jeddah in 2020.

The opening of Elhoush brings the number of screens in Saudi to around 50 from a standing start just over a year ago, when AMC welcomed cinema back to the Kingdom with a screening of Black Panther at its debut Riyadh cinema in April.

Regional giant Vox operates theatres in both Riyadh and Jeddah, including two Imax screens, while South America's leading cinema chain, Cinepolis, also recently announced it will open six cinemas across the Kingdom by 2021, with the first due to open late this year.

Following 2001: A Space Odyssey's run on screen, Elhoush will move on to a more recent movie with screenings of Hirokazu Kore-eda's 2018 Palme d'Or-winning drama Shoplifters. More scheduling news is set to be announced soon.