Russian Film Week promises entertainment bonanza in Saudi Arabia

Many cineplexes have come up in Saudi Arabia in recent months. The Saudi cinema industry is being seen as a good investment. Investors are being enticed to provide the best experience for moviegoers. (Reuters/File)
Updated 17 October 2019

Russian Film Week promises entertainment bonanza in Saudi Arabia

  • Russian businessmen say Saudi cinema industry is ripe for investment

MOSCOW: The growth of the cinema scene in Saudi Arabia reached unprecedented heights with the opening of Russian Film Week in Riyadh this week, a cultural bridge that has provided the Saudi audience with a broader look into the world of cinema.

“There are a lot of correlations between modern Russian film history and the same for your country,” said Paul Heth, chairman of KARO cinema, Russia’s leading cinema chain.

The Kingdom is ripe for cinema business investment and many cineplexes have spread across the country, enticing investors to provide the best experience for moviegoers. The ground is fertile for growth and with an increasingly technological world, the cinema experience has upped its game.

This week, the Saudi Ministry of Culture, in coordination with the Russian Direct Investment Fund and KARO, is bringing a taste of Russian cinema culture to Riyadh as part of the Russian Culture in Riyadh Festival. The event coincided with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s state visit.

 Stalingrad, 2013, directed by Fyodor Bondarchuk.

Earlier this month, Arab News met with the young and innovative president of KARO, Olga Zinyakova, and Paul Heth, chairman of KARO, at one of Moscow’s oldest theaters, the Oktyabr (October), for an exclusive look into bridging cultural divides through film.

“This is the first time Riyadh is hosting Russian Film Week and we are excited about how the Saudi audience will accept our movies and culture,” said Zinyakova.

“We really hope Russian films will find a response in the hearts of Riyadh moviegoers. It is really exciting to become acquainted with the opportunities your country has for the development of the film industry.”


The Saudi Ministry of Culture is bringing a taste of Russian cinema culture to Riyadh.

For the first time in the Kingdom, nine of the best Russian films and animations were selected for a Saudi audience.

 The Mirror, 1975, directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. 

For the first time in the Kingdom, nine of the best Russian films and animations were selected for a Saudi audience. The screenings will be held at the King Fahad Cultural Center in Riyadh.

“Our program has a few classic Russian movies. We also have animations, which will be interesting for any audience, no matter where they are from, because movies are universal,” said Zinyakova.

“The Cranes are Flying,” “Coach,” “Salyut 7,” “Stalingrad,” “Mirror,” are some of the movies to be screened over the coming days.

Among the selected movies are winners of international film festivals and animations that opened up new horizons in storytelling.

“We think that all of these movies will let the Saudi audience learn how versatile our cinematography is and how the movies are changing with the times,” said Zinyakova.

The Coach, 2018, directed by Danila Kozlovsky.

“The movies have gained popularity outside our country and are known and loved by a lot of people globally, and the Saudi audience will have the opportunity to become acquainted with an important part of the world of cinematography.”

Heth said that film production and cinemas are crucial for bridging cultural divides. 

He said that Saudi Arabia has potential for growth in the market as it recently opened cinema halls, with room for expansion.

He added that “KARO started in Russia in 1993 with one part-time cinema in a hotel lobby. By 1996, it had nine screens and the entire box office of cinema in Russia was $3 million. Over 20 years later, there are about 4,000 screens in a $1 billion market. So, there are a lot of correlations between modern Russian film history and the same for your country.”

The first Western-style theater in Russia was opened in the lobby of the Moscow Radisson.

Cranes are Flying, 2957, directed by Mikhail Kalatozov.

Russia had a thriving film tradition during the Soviet era and after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the industry was rebuilt from scratch.

KARO has created a brand for itself by focusing on technology and setting new standards for the theatrical exhibition industry in Russia. According to Zinyakova, “KARO is part of a culture. We are not just an exhibitor.

“We think that Saudi Arabia’s market is full of opportunities for the development of the film industry.  The current macroeconomic situation in the country is positive for entering the entertainment market,” said Zinyakova. 

“We would be glad to contribute to the development of cinema in Saudi Arabia and to consider cooperation between our countries in this area.”


Saudi authorities: 4 dead, 48 injured after bus collision in Madinah province

Updated 26 November 2021

Saudi authorities: 4 dead, 48 injured after bus collision in Madinah province

  • The bus carrying 45 passengers collided with a truck
  • Madinah, Makkah and Qassim authorities assisted victims

RIYADH: A collision between a bus and truck left four people dead in Saudi Arabia, authorities reported on Friday.

The bus, which was carrying 45 passengers, collided with a truck on Al-Hijrah highway, in Madinah province.

The crash happened just after the town of Al-Yutamah, around 90km from Madinah city.

Some of those injured were treated at the scene of the crash before being transferred to local hospitals.

The multi-province operation to deal with the incident featured over 20 ambulances and advanced care units from Madinah, supported by eight units from Makkah and another three from Qassim, according to Khaled Al-Sehali, a Saudi Red Crescent Authority spokesperson.

Okaz newspaper said ambulances were called at 11:27pm on Thursday, though authorities did not confirm exactly when the accident occurred.


This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

The busy route, which underwent refurbishment more than two years ago, is one of the main road links between the provinces of Makkah and Madinah.

Pilgrims and other worshipers often use the route to visit the Two Holy Mosques: The Grand Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah.

Photos from the scene show a red Bonluck bus with extensive damage to the right front and side, its windshield torn off.

In 2019, thirty-five pilgrims died on the same highway near the village of Al-Akhal after their bus collided with a loader. Those on the bus were expats in the Kingdom and of Asian and Arab nationalities.

Saudi Arabia had 12,317 traffic deaths in 2019, according to World Health Organization estimates.

Saudis prefer revisiting their favorite holiday destinations

Updated 26 November 2021

Saudis prefer revisiting their favorite holiday destinations

  • Egypt, UAE, Maldives and Austria most popular travel destinations for Saudi travelers abroad post pandemic

JEDDAH: Year after year, holidaymakers in Saudi Arabia prefer revisiting their favorite holiday destinations, and research shows that Saudis are not breaking away from their pre-pandemic patterns anytime soon.

According to new research from Marriott Bonvoy, the travel loyalty program encompassing hotels, resorts, home rentals, and experiences across 30 brands in 138 countries, 12 percent of Saudi travelers have revisited the same country 10 times or more. In contrast, 30 percent returned to the same country five times or more before the onset of the pandemic last March.

International tourism has always been the preferred way of vacationing for many Saudis, with Arab countries leading in many categories.

“I would normally prefer my getaway destination to be familiar and cozy, somewhere I can call my second home. I like walking down the street to a coffee shop that knows my order, and hiking a trail alongside a river I have memorized,” said 29-year-old Abrar Abulfaraj from Jeddah.

The habitual nature of Saudi travelers shows that even post-pandemic, just 21 percent of those traveling abroad would opt for exploring a new vacation spot. 

Abulfaraj added: “Only due to the pandemic have I become adamant to visit new destinations, (have) new adventures, and appreciate more the luxury of traveling abroad as soon as the coast is clear.”

It is worth noting that the current health measures still being exercised around the world to manage the pandemic also contribute to Saudi travelers’ decisions.

While the following countries have always been staples, many elements come into play when deciding on a trip abroad, including accommodation, cuisine, language, route, currency exchange, and guaranteed weather.

As of 2021, 84 percent expressed their intention to go on a trip in the next 12 months, compared to the 8 percent who plan not to, and the remaining 8 percent are still on the fence.

Post-pandemic statistics show that Egypt will be the No. 1 getaway destination, with 33 percent of travelers intending to visit the country.

I would normally prefer my getaway destination to be familiar and cozy, somewhere I can call it my second home. I like walking down the street to a coffee shop that knows my order, and hiking a trail alongside a river I have memorized.

Abrar Abulfaraj

Noha Yousef, a private-sector worker in Riyadh, told Arab News that getting back on planes and flying to her favorite destinations has revived the sense of adventure in her.

“My family has been visiting Cairo ever since I can remember and it’s always the first stop to any destination. Whether it was Europe or the US, even Bali once, Cairo is where I head to first and I visit it at least twice a year,” said Yousef.

“We’re creatures of habit and once you find something or somewhere that’s comfortable, you’ll keep going back to it because it’s where you enjoy yourself most of the time when you’re away. Cairo to me has always been a place of adventure, there’s always something new to experience. 

“Whether you’re wandering in the alleyways of the old town or zigzagging in the double-parked side roads in the heart of the city, headed to the newest attraction, there’s always something to do and you can’t beat the Egyptian hospitality.”

The second most popular travel destination for Saudi travelers is the UAE, with 29 percent planning on flying there for a much-needed break.

The language, food and proximity of the UAE to Saudi Arabia make it an ideal vacation choice.

Farther away favorites are the Maldives and Austria, respectively, with 15 and 12 percent of Saudi travelers considering them for their next trip.

While some embark on adventurous trips and immerse themselves in new cultures and experiences, research shows that most Saudis traveling abroad opt for familiar and previously visited holiday destinations.

Neal Jones, chief sales and marketing officer of Marriott International, said: “We know there is pent-up demand for travel and this research demonstrates the impact the pandemic is continuing to have on global travel trends.

“The figures suggest that post-pandemic, Saudi Arabian holiday makers are seeking out tried and trusted destinations where they know exactly what to expect — to be able to make the most out of a long-awaited holiday abroad and to avoid any surprises after 18 months of turmoil and uncertainty.”

Saudi ministry signs deal for training of people with disabilities

Updated 26 November 2021

Saudi ministry signs deal for training of people with disabilities

RIYADH: Acting Riyadh Gov. Prince Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Abdulaziz sponsored the signing of an agreement to provide more than 500 jobs to people with disabilities.
The agreement between the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development, the Technical and Vocational Training Corp., and the Sa3ee foundation will see the latter provide job training to people with disabilities registered with the ministry.
The training is also intended to improve the recipients’ standing in society, increase their independence, and help achieve the goals of Vision 2030 reform plan.

KSrelief provides aid in Pakistan, Yemen, Jordan

Updated 26 November 2021

KSrelief provides aid in Pakistan, Yemen, Jordan

BALOCHISTAN: The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center recently distributed 1,700 bags of winter provisions to the needy groups in the Loralai district of Pakistan’s Balochistan province, benefiting 11,900 people.
In Yemen, KSrelief’s mobile medical clinics recently provided treatment to 351 patients in the Hajjah governorate. Meanwhile, Al-Jada Health Center outlets in the governorate provided treatment to 1,270 people in a week.
In Jordan, KSrelief continues to provide medical services to Syrian refugees in Zaatari camp, with its clinics there recently treating 529 patients in a day.

Visitors flocking to rare bird collection in Riyadh’s Salam Park

Updated 25 November 2021

Visitors flocking to rare bird collection in Riyadh’s Salam Park

  • Visitors can find more than 50 different bird species in the garden, including scarlet macaws, cockatiel, white peacocks, cockatoos, pionus parrots and many more

RIYADH: Visitors are flocking to Salam Park’s bird garden, part of Riyadh Season’s 14 zones, where colorful exotic parrots have found a new home.

The zone, which opened on Nov. 19, has been well received by visitors, with thousands of people marveling at the winged creatures on display.

Visitors can find more than 50 different bird species in the garden, including scarlet macaws, cockatiel, white peacocks, cockatoos, pionus parrots and many more.

The owner of the garden, Ahmed Khoja, has raised and trained birds for 15 years. He told Arab News that he transformed his hobby into a business in 2016.

“We witnessed a great turnout from visitors and everyone was pleased with the efforts that we are putting in. The turnout is now huge as we get about 700 to 1,000 visitors per day,” Khoja said.

“The popularity in Riyadh Season is more than expected. We have 80 to 100 visitors every 15 minutes and 100 to 300 people waiting in line to enter the garden, which is very surprising,” he added. 

Mohammed Awaji, a 13-year-old parrot trainer, used the opportunity to take part in Riyadh Season and hone the skills he has developed for more than two years.

“A lot of visitors here are passionate about parrots, and I feel like this place is perfect for people with this kind of hobby. We are striving to raise more awareness about animal culture. So far, visitors are conscious and committed to precautions,” Awaj said.

He added that some of the parrot species are exotic and rare and that within Saudi Arabia, Salam Park is the only place where they can be viewed.

“Sitting on my shoulder, we have a cacatua moluccensis, one of the rarest parrots. Its price is estimated between $50,000 and $150,000. This bird is native to Indonesia,” Awaji said, describing the trained salmon-crested cockatoo perched on his shoulder.

When people enter the bird garden, they arrive among a variety of visitors, including locals, foreigners, children and people with disabilities. 

Sultan Al-Otaibi, a visitor with down’s syndrome, told Arab News how excited and happy he was to touch and play with birds, and said that people with the condition are particularly fond of animals.

“The birds are so colorful and beautiful, especially the red ones, and the place is amazing. I touched all the birds. Without fear, I placed them on my arm. I want to come every day,” he added.

Manar Mohammed, a Saudi visitor, told Arab News that it was her first time seeing many of the birds within the Kingdom.

“My three-year-old daughter had so much fun here because she loves animals, and this kind of activity was much needed in Riyadh Season. The bird collection is enormous, and most of them look different to what we are used to seeing,” she said.

Mary Jane, a visitor from the Philippines, told Arab News that the Riyadh Season far exceeded her expectations and helped her feel less homesick after she reconnected with some of the native fauna of her homeland.

“I couldn’t imagine how beautiful it is. Riyadh Season met the expectations of their slogan, ‘Imagine More!’ It’s the first time I’ve seen these birds for a long time. It was nice to find this kind of activity in our second home, Saudi Arabia,” Jane said.

The garden is one of the activities included in the Salam Tree zone. Salam Tree, which means the tree of peace, is included among the free zones as part of Riyadh Season in 2021. Visitors can book tickets from Riyadh Season’s website to visit the garden.