MENA Cinema Forum highlights Gulf prospects

More than $3.5 billion in investments in cinemas across the Gulf is expected to help the region’s movie industry expand greatly.
Sunday 30/09/2018
Two Saudi men take a selfie at a commercial movie theatre in Riyadh. (Reuters)
New trends. Two Saudi men take a selfie at a commercial movie theatre in Riyadh. (Reuters)

DUBAI - While the expansion of cinema box offices and the film industry’s evolution in the Middle East and North Africa region provides massive opportunities, it also comes with challenges, many of which will be addressed at the MENA Cinema Forum, the first business conference on the regional market, October 28-29 in Dubai.

“The broad themes of discussion at the forum will include a market overview and regional leaders’ strategies for growth and expansion; design, construction and technologies for 21st-century cinemas; movie supply chain with a focus on local content and meeting regional viewing demands; and revenue management and operational strategies,” said Leila Masinaei, managing director of GM Events and organiser of the MENA Cinema Forum.

The event will feature keynote speakers, panel discussions, technical presentations and case studies.

“Although this is a serious business conference, there will be a premiere of a major international film, a gala awards dinner with an award for the top box office ticket sales movie in the region and launch of Dolby’s new immersive experience theatre,” Masinaei said.

More than $3.5 billion in investments in cinemas across the Gulf is expected to help the region’s movie industry expand greatly following Saudi Arabia’s decision to reopen the sector 35 years after cinemas were banned in the kingdom.

The Development and Investment Entertainment Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, said it will invest up to $2.7 billion in entertainment projects across Saudi Arabia by 2030.

Dubai developer Majid Al Futtaim Group, owner of VOX Cinemas, said it would invest $540 million in 600 screens across Saudi Arabia and announced a $300 million investment in other Gulf Cooperation Council markets.

“The list is actually long,” Masinaei said of other expected Saudi cinema investments, “but, so far, four organisations have been granted licences in Saudi Arabia to begin building and operating cinemas: VOX, AMC Entertainment, Empire Cinemas and Cinepolis. In addition, Vue, PVR, Reel and Carnival are in various stages of application but the list of people interested is longer than this.

“Pretty much every market is interested in Saudi Arabia. Cinepolis, Vue, AMC and Carnival are giants in their own rights, Cinepolis being the second largest cinema chain in the world and AMC the biggest in the United States. This is just with operators. Everyone, from technology providers to popcorn producers, is eager to get into Saudi Arabia.”

Masinaei said there has been a major shift in the region across all industries, from being consumers to producers and innovators and the cinema sector was no different.

“There is more focus on promoting the region as a film hub and the number of university programmes, awards and funds supporting local production and utilising local talent is on the rise,” Masinaei said. “Some regional movies have made it to global platforms such as the Cannes [Film] Festival in the recent years and this trend will continue. The Arab youth are extremely talented and they will take their well-deserved spotlight.”

Governments are funding and encouraging the trend, which should expedite the evolution of local content in the media and film industry, she said.

The MENA Cinema Forum will support those trends in the region. Next year’s edition is to be split into two themes, one focusing on the exhibition industry, the cinema infrastructure side, and the other on MENA production.

Riyadh is embarking on doing “the right and logical thing and promoting Saudi Arabia as a movie production hub,” said Masinaei.

“The Saudi Film Council is the entity that is responsible for promoting Saudi Arabia as a production and filming destination. [It was] present in a rather prominent way at the Cannes Film Festival to promote this and will also be attending the MENA Cinema Forum to spread the word. Saudi Arabia offers some exciting rebates for whoever uses the country for movie production.”

Leading industry figures, including more than 300 CEOs and top executives from companies such as the General Commission for Audio-visual Cinema, Majid Al Futtaim Cinemas, Cinepolis, Novo Cinemas, Carnival Cinemas, Empire Cinemas and Paramount Pictures, are to participate in the forum.

All major distribution companies, many local production companies, international and regional studios and almost every cinema operator and movie authority in the region are expected to attend.