Hollywood Studio chiefs hail opening of Saudi Arabia's first cinema

14:56 • 19.04.18



Tom Rothman, Jeff Shell, Jim Gianopulos, Alan Bergman and Kevin Tsujihara were among those to record special messages for the historic screening on Wednesday night in Riyadh.|

The historic screening of Black Panther in Riyadh on Wednesday night  – marking the opening of the first movie theater in the country since a 35-year ban on cinemas was lifted in December – may have been a largely local affair, the audience made up mostly of Saudi dignitaries and figures from the country's cultural scene. 


But while Hollywood might have not have been in attendance, its top brass paid tribute to the landmark occasion via a series of special videos shown before the screening, the Hollywood Reporter says. 


Sony's Tom Rothman, Universal's Jeff Shell, Paramount's Jim Gianopulos, Disney's Alan Bergman and Warner Bros.'


Kevin Tsujihara all recorded messages congratulating Saudi Arabia on the opening of the cinema and hailing of a new era for film across the country. 


"We're so thrilled that we'll now be able to share our movies with audiences in Riyadh and throughout Saudi Arabia," said Tsujihara. 


"I can't tell you how thrilled and excited we are that now Columbia's moveies will be available to be seen by the great people of Saudi Arabia, in theatres in your own country," added Rothman, while Bergman said Black Panther would be "the first of many great movies shown in this theater."


Former Academy president Hawk Koch also offered his optimism about the future prospects for Saudi Arabia's nascent film industry. 


"Given this opportuity, I'm sure that Saudi Arabian filmmakers are now going to start making the kinds of films that will gain recognition all over the world," he said. "And I bet very soon, a film from Saudi Arabia will get nominatied for an Oscar. I love that you're going to the movies!"


Ensuring that it wasn't a purely male affair, Black Panther Angela Bassett also recorded a video in which she said she was "thrilled, honored and excited to bring Black Panther to Saudi Arabia."

Someone who was in the room to witness the historic moment was Mohammed Al Turki, the Saudi producer of titles including Arbitrage, starring Richard Gere, and the Andrew Garfield-starrer 99 Homes. 

 

"There were so many emotions," he told The Hollywood Reporter, speaking just hours after the screening ended. "When I arrived, I felt like a child all over again."

 

Al Turki said there there many Saudi actors and YouTube stars present in the audience, and confirmed what had been shown in photos from the event: that there wasn't any segregation.


"I was sitting next to a Western couple, and in front of us there was a group of Saudi women," he said, adding that he felt that this approach – still a grey area in Saudi Arabia as it undergoes dramatic reforms – wouldn't just be a one off for the launch. "I think this is how it's going to be going forward." 


While Wednesday's screening was a private, invite-only affair, tickets for public screenings will start online Thursday (Al Turki said that they're only accepting online bookings at first because of a fear that huge pent-up demand will create traffic chaos). And Black Panther will soon be joined by both Avengers: Age of Ultron and Dwayne Johnson's latest blockbuster Rampage, with another cinema also due to open in central Riyadh next week.

 





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