UAE then and now: Sharjah's wartime Royal Air Force cinema still stands today

Use our interactive slider and scroll through the photo gallery to explore the silver screen's golden age

Today, life in the Emirates moves in the fast lane. In a regular series to mark the 50th anniversary of the UAE, we take a little trip back in time to see just how much the country has changed.

It was a cinema where the stars were also in the sky.

Sharjah Paramount opened in 1943 at Britain's Royal Air Force base and is believed to be the first movie theatre in what is now modern-day UAE.

The old photograph shows the outdoor cinema in all its freewheeling glory. Black paint frames the screen, upturned petrol tins function as seats, while palm fronds separate the cinema from other parts of the base.

It provided a much-needed distraction for soldiers and locals as the Second World War rumbled on.

“It [screened films] at least once a week – mostly on Sundays – for showings of mainly fairly recent Hollywood movies, said Ali Iqbal, a UAE-based historian.

Log books at the UK’s National Archives also show the films that were screened there, such as the 1940 American comedy Slightly Tempted; and Ma! He's Making Eyes at Me from the same year.

“It was extremely well liked and attended by the resident population as well as being a significant boost in morale of the troops stationed there," Mr Iqbal said.

The base at Sharjah was an important staging post in resupplying Allied lines in the East and countering German submarine activity in the Sea of Oman and Arabian Gulf. British planes operating from Sharjah sunk German U-boat 533 in 1943. Its wreck still lies off the coast of Fujairah.

“[The cinema] was a welcome relief for the airmen of convoy escorts and submarine hunters of the RAF as well as a different and fun way to spend a Sunday evening for the residents of Sharjah and nearby emirates," Mr Iqbal said.

The RAF base closed in 1971 but the control tower, guest house to accommodate people flying through Sharjah, and, remarkably, the original wall where those films were screened, survive as Al Mahatta Museum, which is run by Sharjah Museums Authority. It celebrates the region’s rich aviation history.

There is also a permanent exhibition at the museum dedicated to the cinema, with a mini recreation of the Sharjah Paramount.

Visitors can sit on some of the old petrol tins and time travel back to wartime-era Sharjah.

Updated: September 9th 2021, 3:00 AM
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