Silver screen showdown over cinema in Saudi Arabia

What’s wrong in having movie houses, many Saudis ask

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If there is one question the Saudi general public constantly asks, it is: What’s wrong with having movie theaters in our country? The answer is never convincing and sometimes it confuses them as there are differing views on movie theaters.

For some, theaters are a form of entertainment and to others, an educational experience.

Regardless of how they are viewed, theaters, all people agree, will not present something new in terms of experience.

People who will go to the theater to watch movies are already watching movies at home. So why is there so much hesitation and fear about opening movie theaters? What if there are restrictions and regulations for such theaters, will the current hesitation and fears still remain or go away?

All over the world, movies are rated according to the age of moviegoers.

Such restrictions allow the authorities to control who can and cannot see a certain movie.

Besides, any scene in a movie that might be considered unsuitable for the public can always be cut out.

Movies can be shown during times that do not contradict with prayer times. And for those worried about the sexes mixing, families and children will have their own seats and sections.

The issue of having a movie theater in the Kingdom remains controversial, despite the widespread use of TVs, satellite channels and the Internet.

Many believe the debate going in Saudi society over the issue is useless because the authorities can always monitor the contents of films and ensure they are in compliance with the Shariah and social traditions.

Mamdouh Salim, a TV director and manager of the Saudi Film Festival, said no supervisory body oversaw movie theaters in the country 36 years ago and society was divided into two groups: proponents and opponents.

“Things have changed with the appearance of satellite channels. People today can see movies on paid and free satellite channels.

They can select from hundreds of channels. The new generation has changed as well,” said Salim.

“Forty years ago, Saudi society had one option: local TV channels; today things have changed and we have become a more open society.

But it seems that the stereotypes attached to movie theaters have not been dispelled. At the time, movie theaters did not censor movies and improper scenes and movies were shown.

Some people still worry this will happen should movie theaters be allowed to open in the country,” he added.

Successful experiences

“We should benefit from the experiences of our brothers and sisters in the Gulf countries where they have movie theaters.

We can set rules for monitoring films that will be displayed in the Kingdom and adapt these experiences to our society,” Salim said.

Salim said he believes movie theaters will have a positive impact on the economy as local filmmakers will be encouraged to make movies.

“More job opportunities will be created for aspiring filmmakers. Look at the economic importance of cinema in the United States, Egypt and India.

We can develop a movie industry and show the world the beautiful and civilized image of our country through our films,” Salim said.

Society ready

Sabri Bajsair, producer, said nearly every home in the Kingdom has access to satellite TV channels and they can watch movies produced all over the world.

He believes those who oppose movie theaters will eventually change their minds when they realize there is no real reason for banning them.

“Members of society need to be educated about what does it mean to take your family and children to a movie theater.

All indications at home say that we live in a more civilized and open society. Many of us travel abroad to go to a movie theater. Our society is ready for theaters,” he said.

Protection of youth

Yahya Al-Bishri, fashion designer, said nations assess their development and civilization by their art and cinema is one of these arts.

“Many young Saudis wander aimlessly on the streets because they do not have places like movie theaters for leisure.

If we were to conduct a genuine survey on the importance of cinema, the results will favor the opening of movie theaters,” he said.

Al-Bishri recalled his childhood when he used to go to the movies with his family and friends in Jeddah’s Al-Baghdadiah neighborhood.

“There was no mixing between sexes in the theater; people used to go there on weekends to enjoy their time.

I never heard anyone complaining about the movies at the time. People liked movies and supported movie theaters,” he said.

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