‘Cinema Build KSA Forum’ aims to boost Saudi entertainment sector

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Badr Al Zahrani, CEO of the General Commission for Audiovisual Media (GCAM), opening the Cinema Build KSA Forum in Riyadh on April 14, 2019. (Supplied photo)
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Badr Al Zahrani, CEO of the General Commission for Audiovisual Media (GCAM), speaking at the opening the Cinema Build KSA Forum in Riyadh on April 14, 2019. (Supplied photo)
Updated 14 April 2019
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‘Cinema Build KSA Forum’ aims to boost Saudi entertainment sector

  • Forum attracts 300 attendees, 50 speakers, and exhibitors from 30 countries 
  • SR267 billion to build suitable infrastructure for entertainment across the Kingdom

RIYADH: The General Authority for Entertainment has indicated that the entertainment sector needs SR267 billion to build suitable infrastructure for entertainment across the Kingdom, with expected investments in the sector to reach SR18 billion annually, according to a 2018 report from Flanders Investment and Trade.

Vox Cinemas, a subsidiary of UAE-based Majid Al Futtaim, was awarded the second license to open cinemas in the Kingdom. The company also plans to invest SR2 billion in 600 screens over the next five years, which Saudi officials estimate will bring the total number of cinemas to 350 and the number of screens to 2,500 by 2030.

The first movie theater opened in Riyadh on April 18, 2018, and about 30 movie theaters are to be opened in 15 cities around the Kingdom within five years. The anticipated audience will visit 300 cinemas with more than 2,000 screens in the Kingdom by 2030 and the sector is forecast to be worth about $1 billion over the next few years.

The Cinema Build KSA Forum, in partnership with the General Commission of Audiovisual Media (GCAM), the forum’s government supporting partner, attracted more than 300 attendees and KSA potential market-stakeholders from 30 countries in addition to more than 25 exhibitors for two days.

The sessions — led by 25 prominent international speakers and industry experts — discussed investment opportunities, business collaborations and future partnerships, cinema industry competitiveness through design and innovative theming, and redesigning existing entertainment hubs such as shopping malls to include cinemas.

Organized by  Eyes  of Cities in collaborationwith  Great Minds Event Management, Cinema Build KSA Forum has brought together stakeholders across the design, construction and technology sectors to discuss the latest trends and techniques  of building  world-class cinemas in the Kingdom. The event revealed  a range of new building solutions and equipment used in developing future cinemas, multiplexes and malls to serve as a key contributor to the industry.     

With a population of more than 32 million, the majority of whom are under the age of 30, Saudis spend about $30 billion annually on tourism and entertainment outside the Kingdom, which makes movie theaters open to a domestic market expected to be worth up to $1 billion in annual box-office sales by 2030.

On the sidelines of the forum, Sunil Puthan Veettil, managing director of Carnival Cinemas, said: “Carnival envisions to operate around 300-plus screens over the next five years in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Our mission is to take good-quality movie-watching experience close to the people in the country. For this, we have made a study of all the provinces and identified several locations, subject to approval. Our idea is to move to all these provinces to set up entertainment centers.”

At the end of the first day, forum organizers held an award ceremony where Dr. Kamel Mohamed, CEO of East Delta Saudi, presented a memento to GCAM’s CEO Badr Al Zahrani to honor his efforts in supporting the forum. Dr. Kamel also presented mementos of appreciation to VOX, Carnival, Empire, Cinepolis, MUVI (Fawaz Alhokair) in recognition of their efforts to develop the cinema sector in the Kingdom. Eyes of Riyadh received a memento for supporting Great Minds Event Management’s efforts in marketing the forum.

Leila Masinaei, managing partner at Great Minds Event Management, said: “The world is witnessing Saudi Arabia’s confident steps toward an unprecedented era of social and economic reforms. The lifting of the cinema ban opens doors to untrodden grounds for investment and lucrative revenue streams for the Kingdom and entertainment sector stakeholders.

“We at Great Minds Events’ envisioned and have foreseen the massive growth opportunities in the entertainment sector in KSA; hence we are organizing Cinema Build KSA Forum to represent a global platform and bring (together) key entertainment project owners, government decision-makers, regional and international retail developers, family entertainment centers developers and cinemas. Consequently, Cinema Build KSA invites all stakeholders to explore the opportunities in the entertainment sector, as reports expect at least 300 cinemas, in addition to numerous family entertainment centers, to be built by 2030.”

Partnering with Cinema Build KSA were a number of  high-profile entities in the field  of entertainment, cinema constructions and technology such as VOX, Cinepolis, AMC, Empire, Carnival, Fawaz Alhokair Group, MUVI Cinemas, Jeddah Park, Compass Project Management, TK Architects, & Design Novel Architecture.


Breaking big: Nadine Labaki’s star continues to rise

Updated 6 min 8 sec ago
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Breaking big: Nadine Labaki’s star continues to rise

  • Labaki is currently serving as the president of the Un Certain Regard jury, the first Arab to do so
  • “Capernaum” has become an unexpected blockbuster in China, reportedly grossing $44 million in just over two weeks

DUBAI: The success that Lebanese director Nadine Labaki’s third film, “Capernaum,” continues to find across the world is astounding — even to her. Just one year ago, “Capernaum” won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival — a jury chaired by Cate Blanchett — after a 15-minute standing ovation. The film went on to be nominated for both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, with Labaki becoming the first woman from the Arab world to receive that honor. Now, perhaps most surprisingly, “Capernaum” has become an unexpected blockbuster in China, reportedly grossing $44 million in just over two weeks.
“It’s crazy! I can’t believe it! I really can’t. Why there? It’s all very new, so I still don’t know what it means exactly, but we’re soon going to find out,” Labaki tells Arab News in Cannes.
With its success in China, along with the US, Middle East and across Europe, “Capernaum” has reportedly become the highest grossing Arabic-language film in history.
“There’s been rumors going on for the past two to three days, and it’s like, ‘What?’ I still can’t believe it. It’s living proof that an Arab film with no actors can actually be a box office hit — can actually return money, make money for investors. You know how much we’re struggling in the Arab world to make films, find money, find funding, find investment. Especially for a Lebanese film,” Labaki says.
Labaki was in China just one month ago to show the film at the Beijing International Film Festival, and although the film got a rousing response in the room, she didn’t feel the reaction was any stronger than anywhere else the film has shown.
“Maybe it’s because there’s more than a billion people in China, but even the distributor is saying it’s working like any big blockbuster movie,” says Labaki.
The Chinese release of the film has one major difference from other cuts. The original version of the film tells the story of a young boy named Zain El Hajj (played by Zain Al-Rafeea) struggling to survive on the streets of Lebanon with the help of a young Ethiopian immigrant named Rahil and her undocumented infant son Yonas, dreaming of escaping as a refugee to Sweden. The story is not far from Al-Rafeea’s real-life situation at the time — he is a Syrian refugee. Since the film’s release, though, Al-Rafeea and his family have been relocated to Norway, something the Chinese release includes at the end of the film as a short visual report.
“The film ends on his smile, and in a way there’s (now) a continuation of real life in that story. This is really happening, it’s not made up,” says Labaki. “That’s why we’re making a documentary around the film. Maybe it’s a way of comforting people, knowing that he’s alright, he’s good, he’s in a better place. Deep down, people know this kid is going through this in his real life, they know he’s not just an actor in this film.
“I think it’s comforting to know Zain is in a different place now. He’s travelled. He was dreaming of going to Sweden the whole time, and now he’s really in Norway. He has a new life, a new beginning, a new house. He’s going to school, all his family is with him,” she continues. “It’s a complete shift of destiny. Maybe the fact the distributor added this report after the film made people understand that this is a real story and a real struggle, and not just another film.”
Though this is a huge moment for Arab film in general, Labaki doesn’t believe that the success of “Capernaum” necessarily signals a greater appetite for Arab cinema worldwide.
“I don’t think it’s about (where the film comes from). It’s about good films. It has nothing to do with the identity of the film or the country it’s coming from, really. It doesn’t mean if this film worked in China that another Arab film will work in China,” she says. “Maybe there’s going to be more hope for Lebanese cinema in the sense that investors will be less afraid to invest in Lebanese films, but it’s about the script, the filmmaker, the craft, the know-how. This is what gives confidence to somebody.”
Speaking to Arab News at the renowned Hotel Barrière Le Majestic Cannes on one of the busiest days of the film festival, Labaki is currently serving as the president of the Un Certain Regard jury, the first Arab to do so. Labaki began her relationship with Cannes in 2004, writing and developing her first feature, “Caramel,” at the Cinéfoundation Residency before showcasing the film at the Director’s Fortnight in 2007. Both of Labaki’s subsequent films — “Where do We Go Now?” in 2011 and “Capernaum” in 2018 — debuted at the festival, each in increasingly competitive categories.
“I feel like I’m their baby, in a way. With a baby you start watching their first steps, see them grow, protect them, push them… They’ve accompanied me in this journey, and recognized and encouraged me. It’s great — I really love this festival. I think it’s the best festival in the world. I like the integrity they have towards cinema. You feel that watching a film in Cannes, you know that you’re not going to watch just anything — there’s something in there for you to learn from, to be surprised by, to be in awe of. There’s always something about films that are shown in Cannes,” says Labaki.
In approaching her role as head of the jury, Labaki is focusing on connecting with the films, and taking on the perspective of myriad filmmakers from across the world.
“I don’t watch films as a filmmaker. Never,” she says. “I watch the film as a human being… I don’t like the word jury. I don’t like to judge because I’ve been there — I’m there all the time. I’ve been in those very difficult situations, very fragile situations, where you’re making a film, where you’re doubting, where you don’t know, where you don’t have enough distance with what you’re doing, and you don’t have the right answers and you’re not taking the right decisions.”
Just as her own films have become increasingly focused on the problems facing Lebanese society, Labaki believes that contemporary film cannot help but be political, and must accept its role as a commentary on the world we live in — something that she feels she’s seen in the films in her category.
“Cinema is not just about making another film; it’s about saying something about the state of the world right now. Until now, every film we’ve seen is (doing that). That doesn’t mean that cinema that is just art for art’s sake is not good — there are so many different schools — but I feel we’re becoming so much more responsible for this act,” she says. “You become an activist without even knowing you’re becoming an activist, and saying something about the state of the world. It’s important.”