Last April, Saudi Arabia made history by opening its first ever public cinema after a 35-year ban. The movie theater, situated in Riyadh’s King Abdullah Financial District, welcomed hundreds of movie-goers to the screening of Marvel’s Black Panther. Less than two weeks later, the kingdom welcomed its second cinema, a Vox Cinemas four-screen multiplex in the capital city. The first screening? Avengers: Infinity War.
Soon after, Vox Cinemas, a division of Majid Al Futtaim Group, began popping up all across the kingdom, cutting the ribbon of its first theater in Jeddah earlier this year. Situated at city’s Red Sea Mall, the newly-opened venue — a 12 screen multiplex — came after Vox Cinemas announced a US $533 million investment last year to open up to 600 theaters in the Gulf country over the next five years. Since its opening in January, the venue has screened blockbusters like Glass, Mary Poppins Returns, How to Train Your Dragon, and Aquaman, among others. Now, the latest movie set to premiere at Jeddah’s Vox Cinemas is Roll’em, a film directed, shot, and produced entirely in Saudi Arabia.
The brainchild of director Abdulelah Al-Qurashi, co-producer Abdulrahman Khoja, and screenwriter Yasser Hammad, the film tells the story of a Saudi filmmaker named Omar Nizar who meets a retired 1970s cinematographer while on a journey to discover his home city of Jeddah. “It’s a Jeddawi film to the core. The post-production was in Egypt. The areas where we don’t have expertise in we had to outsource, but everything that had to do with the creative work is purely Saudi,” Hammad said speaking to Arab News.
The film, which was three years in the making, will premiere to the public on March 14, following a private screening the night before.
Vox Cinemas rivals AMC Theatres, the largest theater chain in the United States, and the first to secure a cinema operating license from Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture and Information last year. Vox Cinemas is currently the largest cinema operator in the Middle East and North Africa. According to reports, Vox Cinemas aims to launch 600 screens across the conservative Gulf country.
The historic lifting of the longstanding ban on public cinemas came amidst sweeping social changes and women’s rights reforms, marking another historic milestone for Saudi Arabia. The changes are spearheaded by 32-year-old crown prince Mohammed bin Salman— also known as MBS— who has outlined his ambitious goals for the Kingdom in his Vision 2030 plan. It focuses on moving Saudi Arabia towards a more tolerant form of Islam, modernizing the culture, diversifying its economy away from oil, and attracting global investments and tourism.
Watch the official trailer for Roll’em below.