Saudi screens second public film in 30 years

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'Journey to Mecca' was given its first public airing in Jeddah. (AFP/Getty Images)

'Journey to Mecca' was given its first public airing in Jeddah. (AFP/Getty Images)

Saudi Arabia has shown its second public film screening since the conservative Gulf kingdom shuttered its cinemas three decades ago.

'Journey to Mecca', which was part funded and produced by the kingdom, was given its local premier at the Jeddah Hilton on Sunday, Variety Arabia magazine reported.

The Bruce Neibaur film was held for the first time under the patronage of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud and was attended by male and female guests, separated by a screen.

The production, which was filmed in the Mecca province and includes scenes shot at the Grand Mosque, follows the 14th Century explorer Ibn Battuta as he makes his way from his native Morocco to Mecca for the Hajj pilgrimage.

The kingdom banned public movie screenings and other types of entertainment to pacify clerics after a terror siege of the Muslim holy site, Mecca, in 1979.

The last film to be screened in Jeddah was Ayman Makram's comedy, Menahi, produced by the Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, in 2008. Men sat on the ground floor of the 1,200 seat-conference hall while women sat on a separate balcony.

The project was part financed by the Saudi-based Al-Zamil family. The family, which runs the Al Zamil Group of companies, has an estimated fortune of $2.8bn, according to the Arabian Business Saudi Rich List 2011.

“Premiering the film in Jeddah is of great importance to the film's developers and producers, as it shows there is a market for such magnificent films,” Abdulrahman Al-Zamil said in an interview with Variety Arabia. “From the reaction we have seen tonight, we can see that the audience believes that such films help to spread peace and prosperity.”

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