Building Saudi Arabia’s First Movie Theatre (HBO)


The next King of Saudi Arabia was named today: 31-year-old Prince Mohammed Bin Salman,
the son of King Salman. To crown the young prince, King Salman deposed his powerful nephew,
Mohammed bin Nayif, who was next in line, and upended the line of succession in the monarchy, where the throne is almost never
passed from father to son. And this son happens to be the
authoritarian state’s version of a progressive. Bin Salman is currently the national defense minister— and an aggressive one— but he’s also seen as a reformer. He’s called for the kingdom to loosen
its dependence on oil, diversify its economy,
and ease its social restrictions. Some have speculated that Bin Salman may even allow movie theaters to open in
Saudi Arabia for the first time since the 1970s. But he won’t take the throne immediately. And currently, there’s not a single theater in the nation of 31 million. But there is a thriving underground cinema circuit where Saudi filmmakers can screen their work: YouTube. — This is Ali al Kalthami,
Saudi Arabia’s biggest YouTube star. His videos get millions of views. But this week, he’s focused on getting
just 200 people to watch his new film. Because this week, Ali and his team are going
to build the country’s only movie theater. — We’re trying to do more short films. But until we have cinema in Saudi Arabia, I don’t think we could go so much into that. — Ali started his YouTube production house,
Telfaz11, six years ago. Their films satirize Saudi culture. In the Kingdom, women are not allowed to drive. Telfaz11’s first viral hit took aim at this ban— “No Woman, No Drive” has more than 14 million views: — A lot of your films focus around
the theme of masculinity. Why is that? — My experience of living in Riyadh is,
you know, from schools to, like, family, to— everything is masculine. You know? We segregated society. Let’s laugh at our problems. It’s funny, let’s discuss it in a funny way. — Artists like Ali walk a very, very fine line. In 2015, Saudi Arabia sentenced a poet
to death on charges of promoting atheism. Last year, the Kingdom condemned a blogger
to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for “insulting Islam through electronic channels.” But the growing community of artists and
entertainers are increasing pressure on the kingdom. This is Gharem Studios, a creative workspace run by Abdulnasser. He’s been making art critiquing
the conservative regime for 20 years— like this barbed wire mosque. — Sometimes when you became a mirror, as an artist— I mean, became a mirror and
you show your society who they are, they get upset. But you go, the red line, the crossing line, there is no red lines in art. — But there’s some line,
because you could get… in jail. — You need to be smart. You can push the lines. If you want to cross, okay,
there are some consequences. — But in just the past few months, the monarchy seems to be
relaxing around leisure rules. The General Entertainment Authority has
promised they’ll open a cinema next year. Today though, Ali and his crew are building their own— at Yamama University. So for one night only, Saudi Arabia has a movie theater. — We’ve been doing this online, which is cool. But to have an equal economical system that makes a creative person, filmmaker, actor, whatever, do his film and sell it to people, that makes him more free to do what he wants. — Tonight, Telfaz11 is screening Ali’s film, that’s based on the extraordinary events
that happened on that very stage in 2006: As actors performed Wasati,
a play ironically about moderation, religious extremists stormed the theater
and attacked the cast and crew. To break the fight, police shot into the ceiling. — If I told you five years ago or
told anybody in Saudi that, “Oh, by the way, there will be stand up comedy events,” “and music events, and orchestra, and officially, and all of these entertainment shows
that are happening in Saudi,” they’d be like, “Oh, you’re you crazy.” — Does stuff like this happen often? — It’s the first time. A lot of people told me that, “Oh, it’s your dream, and it’s coming true,” and it doesn’t feel like that way, for some reason. It feels that… that’s the first step.

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