Industry figures at the Dubai International Film Festival have reacted with varying degrees of optimism to today’s news that cinemas will be able to reopen in Saudi Arabia from early 2018.
It will be the first time public cinemas have been permitted in the country since the early eighties, and DIFF managing director Shivani Pandya was clearly pleased at the news that the region’s biggest potential market would be heading back to theatres: “It’ll be fantastic for the region and give us a much more substantial audience base, which in turn will increase the regional market’s profile internationally,” she said.
“It’ll be great for Diff, and for cinema generally, because we’ll be reaching out to this whole new audience base that previously had to wait for films to become available on digital download, and now they’ll be able to watch in cinemas. It’s great news for everyone.”
Gianluca Chakra, managing director of leading regional film distributor Front Row Entertainment revealed that his company already buys the Saudi rights for all the films it distributes in the region, partly for digital distribution in the kingdom, but also on the assumption that Saudi cinemas would reopen “eventually”.
Chakra was also pleased at the announcement, though his optimism could reasonably be termed as cautious: “We’ll have to wait and see how it works out because there are likely to be a lot of issues with censorship, that’s already a big problem we have in Kuwait,” he said. “Initially we’ll be focusing on family films, animations and the like, and we’ll see where it goes from there.”
Chakra added that the news would not create an instantly lucrative market, with time needed to build the infrastructure for cinema screenings in KSA: “This isn’t going to happen overnight. We’ll be looking at, at least, an eight or nine-month period while cinemas are set up, so let’s just start slowly and we’ll see where we go.”
UAE-based Vox Cinemas was also pleased with the announcement, and released a statement announcing its intention to move into the nascent Saudi market: "As the Middle East’s largest cinema operator, VOX Cinemas congratulates the Saudi Government on its historic decision to reintroduce cinemas. We have observed the emergence of creative industries across the Kingdom with great enthusiasm as part of the Vision 2030 agenda and we look forward to working with the Government to introduce VOX Cinemas world class offering to Saudi Arabia in the months and years ahead.
"Today’s announcement will mean the creation of thousands of job opportunities for Saudi Nationals through the creation of another new leisure industry in Saudi Arabia and we look forward to playing an active role."