Permanent cinemas are set to open from March.

Following the end of a decades-long ban, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has seen its first public cinema screening.

Organisers went for a double feature of family movies for the event, with The Emoji Movie and Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie running together.

Saudi Arabia will lift its long-standing ban on public cinemas next year
Sheikh Mohammed takes his daughter back to his birthplace

The programme was held at a state-run cultural hall in Jeddah, Reuters reports, which was decked out with a projector, red carpet and popcorn machines for the occasion.

Purpose built cinemas are set to open from March, but until then, Saudi authorities are backing improvised facilities.

“Until now, there is no infrastructure for movie theaters, so we are trying to take advantage of (alternative) venues to approximate the cinematic form,” organiser Mamdouh Salim of Cinema 70 told Reuters.

“We tried to use these films to be a starting point as the first cinematic screening after the decision on December 11 to permit movie theaters.”

Both the UAE’s Vox Cinemas and international company AMC have thrown their hats in the ring for Saudi openings, Arab News reports. It’s not yet known how those cinemas will work in terms of gender segregation.

The move comes as part of Vision 2030, the kingdom’s post-oil economy plan under which the government aims to increase the percentage of women in the nation’s workforce from 23 per cent to 28 per cent by 2020.

The initiative, spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, aims to make Saudi a more modern, tourist-friendly destination.

Under the plans, King Salman issued a historic royal decree in September, allowing females the right to lawfully gain driving licences in the kingdom from June 2018.

Here are a few local favourites we hope they’ll consider screening…

Caramel (2007) 

This film from Lebanese director and actress Nadine Labaki premiered at Cannes and was a hit. It follows the private and intersecting lives of five women who each face their own issues, but find support with each other.

Theeb (2015) 

Directed by Naji Abu Nowar, this Jordanian thriller is set during World War I and focuses on Theeb, a young Bedouin boy trying to survive in the Wadi Rum. It’s been referred to as a Bedouin Western.

He Named Me Malala (2015) 

Directed by American David Guggenheim, this documentary tells the story of Malala Yousafzai, who survived being shot by a Taliban gunman in her native Pakistan. She’s now attending Oxford University, so you know it has a happy ending.

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