Cameron Mitchell, CEO of Vox Cinemas, has confirmed to The National that Vox will open Saudi Arabia's second public cinema in "around a week", and that Ferdinand is expected to be the next film to go on public release in the kingdom.
Speaking ahead of the UAE premiere of Avengers: Infinity War at Dubai's Mall of the Emirates on Tuesday night, Mr Mitchell said: "The cinema is basically now ready to open. We've got a great location in a family entertainment centre and there'll be four screens at the new cinema, including Saudi's only IMAX.
"We don’t have an exact opening date yet as we’re still working with the authorities to make sure everything is correct, but we expect it to be probably in around a week’s time.”
Mr Mitchell added that Ferdinand, the animated tale of a peace-loving bull who escapes his life in the bullring, is currently in the hands of Saudi censors, and that he does not expect any problems with the film being cleared for public viewing. The family cartoon has already been a huge success across the region, including in the UAE, where it opened in December.
Looking ahead, Mr Mitchell said his team are working closely with Saudi authorities around programming, and he expects to focus largely on new releases. “We will feature some older classics, but we think new films are really the way forward,” he said. “You have to remember that a lot of Saudis regularly come to the UAE or elsewhere to go to the cinema, so we’d anticipate a limited demand for older films.
"I can’t name specific films just yet as this is still very early days, but we don’t expect too many difficulties in terms of what we can show – the biggest films regionally tend to be family films and big ticket action movies, and there are very few issues with those in terms of respecting local culture.”
Mr Mitchell added that the addition of 30 million Saudis to the regional audience would have huge benefits, not just for Vox’s bottom line, but also for cinema in the region as a whole.
"If you look at Australia, with a population of only about 24 million, that's the world's ninth biggest market for cinema. This is 30 million on top of the healthy existing market in the region. Look at the Avengers event we're running tonight across six countries – add Saudi into that too and we're suddenly a much bigger proposition in terms of our importance as a market to the studios too."
Saudi Arabia's first cinema since a ban was introduced four decades ago, Riyadh's brand new AMC Cinema, opened last week with a gala screening of Black Panther.