Saudi cinemas could reopen as Vue invited to pitch

The cinema chain was asked to come to an investment conference in Riyadh in October where they pitched their idea

Vue Entertainment is bidding to open the first cinemas in Saudi Arabia since 1982. Vue Entertainment
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British company Vue Entertainment are hoping to exploit Saudi Arabia's modernisation drive by proposing to launch the kingdom's first cinemas since they were closed in 1982.

The cinema chain was invited to an investment conference in Riyadh in October where they pitched their idea for theatres with reclining seats and laser projection, aimed at a wealthy audience.

Tim Richards, Vue's chief executive, said the company was excited by the opportunity to provide entertainment for Saudi Arabia's youthful population.

“You’ve got a market where 65-70 per cent of the population are under 30 with not a lot of leisure activities. It sounds like an incredible opportunity,” Mr Richards told The Times. “When you’re starting from scratch, you can build something very special.”

Talking about the conference, he said “I was really inspired by what I saw and heard. It felt like history in the making… All anybody wanted to talk about was when are the movies coming in.”

Richards also told Deadline Hollywood: “It’s early days, but it’s a very exciting initiative. The Saudis want to build something very exciting, different and world class. That’s something we would look at providing.”

In a Reuters interview in April, Ahmed al-Khatib, chairman of the General Entertainment Authority, said he wanted to create entertainment that “will be like 99 percent of what is going on in London and New York,” although after decades of cultural conservatism such change could not be rapid.

“I believe we are winning the argument,” he said. The “majority [of Saudis] are moderate. They travel, they go to cinemas, they go to concerts. I am counting on the middle segment, which is about 80 pct of the population.”

There is still religious opposition to the move. Saudi Arabia’s highest-ranking cleric Grand Mufti Abdulaziz Al Sheikh said in January “that singing concerts and cinemas are a depravity.”

He warned that cinemas “might show movies that are libertine, lewd, immoral and atheist, because they rely on films imported to change our culture”, according to the Sabq news website.

He insisted that music entertainment and opening cinemas represent a “call for mixing between sexes”.

“At the beginning they would assign areas for women, but then both men and women will end up in one area. This corrupts morals and destroys values.”