Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Theatre and Film

Public and private theatres or cinemas are banned in Saudi Arabia for religious reasons. Many conservatives have made headlines recently trying to stop various plays from being performed, including those at universities. There are piano recitals, stand-up comedy routines, and plays performed on embassy grounds or in expatriates’ residential compounds, venues that are off limits to religious police and extremists, but the shows are not always open to Saudis.

Conservative clerics launched a battle against films in the 1970s, and some religious police today still condemn cinema. The cinema of Saudi Arabia is still on a very small scale. Many Saudis watch films via satellite, DVD, and online video. In December 2008, however, there were film screenings in Jeddah and Taif, the first public movie showings in 30 years. Rotana Entertainment, a group owned by Saudi Prince al-Waleed bin Talal, showed its new comedy Manahi. The shows were sold out. IMBD lists nine films produced in Saudi Arabia: Astrolab 22 (1985), a TV series, Architecture of Mud, Cinema 500 km (2006), Zilal al-samt, (Shadow of Silence, 2006), Frame (2007), Keif al-Hal? (How Are You?, 2006), Langage du Geste (1973), al-Nafidha (The Window, 2009), and Three Queens (2006).

Films shot in Saudi Arabia include Exile Family Movie (Austrian, 2006), Le Grand Voyage (French, 2004, filmed partly in Mecca), Malcolm X (American, 1992), and the first non-documentary to be given permission to film in Mecca, Le Schiave Esistono Ancora (Italian; 1964). The first Saudi film festival was held last year and was attended by the Information Minister in a clear sign of official support for the event.

In this article: Saudi Arabia | Culture