No cinemas but Saudi Arabia to hold first film festival

Saudi Arabia, which has no cinemas, will be holding its first government-approved film festival in May, according to a local newspaper.

Saudi Arabia, which has no cinemas, will be holding its first government-approved film festival in May, according to a local newspaper.

The five-day festival, starting May 20, will screen Arabic films from the region and is being co-sponsored by the Saudi Society of Arts and Culture and a literary club in the eastern city of Dammam.

The country banned the screening of movies in the early 1980s because the conservative clergy viewed it as a waste of time. There are no details on where the movies will be shown.

The Dammam literary club, though, has been hosting Sunday film screenings.

Last October, two Saudi hotels in Riyadh and Jeddah screened several American animated and family movies in celebration of the holiday marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Hardline Saudi clerics criticized the showings in online forums, blaming the  Ministry of Culture and Information for failing to stop the screenings.

The festival is a way of fostering the country's almost non-existent film industry and will award prizes for best short narrative, documentary and screenplay, in addition to raising funds for the winning script to be turned into a film.

Saudi Arabia's most recent additions to the film world include a 2006 social comedy, Keif Al-Hal, produced by the country's first female director, Haifa al-Mansur, and filmed in Dubai, and a documentary titled Cinema 500 km, about a young Saudi movie fan who crosses borders to see a film in a cinema for the first time.

At the festival in May, men and women will be seated in different halls during the screenings. Under Saudi law, men and women are not permitted to be seen together in public unless they are relatives.

With files from the Associated Press