Hooray! A first ever inclusion for the Sydney Morning Herald – who give us the news today that Saudi Arabia is showing its first public movie in the cinemas for many a year. Thanks to Richard Dean for drawing my attention to this story.
Riyadh goes to the movies – for the first time
June 8, 2009 – 6:27AM
A few hundred Saudis braved a small band of religious hardliners to take part in an historic event on Saturday night: the first public showing of a commercial film in decades in the Saudi capital.
With bags of popcorn and soft drinks in their laps, the men-only crowd of more than 300 in Riyadh’s huge King Fahd Cultural Centre cheered, whistled and clapped when the first scenes of the Saudi-made Menahi hit the screen and the film’s score erupted in surround sound.
“This is the beginning of change,” said university student Ahmed al-Mokayed, attending with his brother and cousin.
Businessman Abdul Mohsen al-Mani, who brought his two sons to the film, was ecstatic, after being denied public cinema for some three decades.
“This is the first step in a peaceful revolution,” he said.
“I don’t want my two sons to grow up in the dark … I told them that in the future they will talk about today like a joke,” he added.
It was long in coming — and no one is certain that it will launch a thriving public cinema industry, with strident opposition from clerics who regard film, music and other entertainment as violating Islamic teachings.
Police at the venue had to fend off a small band of conservative Muslims who warned that films were bringing disasters on the country, citing a recent series of minor earthquakes in western Saudi Arabia.
“Allah is punishing us for the cinema,” one said. “It is against Islam.”
“Menahi”, a comedy about a Saudi country bumpkin getting lost in the big city, was shown in December to huge crowds in the relatively free-wheeling Red Sea city of Jeddah.