The End Of A 35-Year-Old Rule Has Saudi Filmmakers Celebrating And Excited For The Future

“Saudi Arabia, finally 24 frames per second.”

Filmmaker Haifaa al-Mansour, director of the BAFTA-nominated drama Wadjda, says it's a beautiful day in Saudi Arabia because the country is lifting its 35-year ban on cinemas.

Commercial movie theaters will be granted licenses starting in early 2018, according to a statement released today, December 11, by Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Culture and Information. According to CNN, the first cinemas are expected to open in March, and the ministry is expecting 300 cinemas with more than 2,000 screens to open by 2030.

"This marks a watershed moment in the development of the cultural economy in the Kingdom," Minister of Culture and Information Awwad Alawwad said in the statement.

Movie theater chains already operating in the Middle East are considering moving into the kingdom now. "We are absolutely studying our options to enter the Saudi market," Novo Cinemas CEO Debbie Kristiansen told CNN. "It's an important market."

The decision to lift the cinema ban is part of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman's ongoing social and economic reform program, The Washington Post reports, which is easing restrictions in the traditionally conservative country.

For example, women will soon be allowed to drive and to enter some sporting venues, men and women have been attending conferences together, and Saudi Arabia has also hosted music concerts recently.

Furthermore, the country will put billions of dollars into tourism entertainment projects under bin Salman's Saudi Vision 2030 plan, including planned resorts along the Red Sea and even a planned Six Flags theme park.

The lifting of the cinema ban does come with logistical concerns, however, including what genres of films will be allowed in Saudi Arabian cinemas, and how strictly men and women would be segregated. Additionally, films screened in the kingdom's cinemas will likely be heavily censored, as they have been on the kingdom's TV channels.

Still, Saudi creatives are celebrating the news. "Saudi Arabia, finally 24 frames per second," tweeted Mahmoud Sabbagh, director of Barakah Meets Barakah, a film the kingdom submitted to the Academy Awards last year.

"What a beautiful life, pride and happiness at home," Al-Mansour added on Twitter. "Stay tuned for our films on our land. A historic day and congratulations to Saudi filmmakers."

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