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Wed 20 Feb 2008 01:30 AM

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Saudi plans first official film festival

Five-day contest featuring Saudi and other Arab movies set to become an annual event.

Ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia, where movie theatres are banned, will hold its first official film festival in May, a newspaper reported Tuesday.

There have been smaller and informal movie screenings in recent years but the contest, to be underwritten by the government, will mark the first time film critics from the region will be invited to take part, the Arab News said.

The planned annual event will start on May 20 and is organised by a literary club based in the eastern city of Dammam and the Saudi Society of Arts and Culture, the English-language paper said.

Quoting poet Ahmad Al-Mulla, a board member of the Dammam Literary Club, the paper said the five-day contest will feature Saudi and other Gulf and Arab movies of various genres.

Films were once shown in private clubs in Saudi Arabia until all public screenings were banned in the early 1980s because they were considered against Islamic law.

Saudi Arabia, which follows a rigorous doctrine of Islam known as Wahhabism, is the only country to have banned cinema houses in the Muslim conservative Gulf Arab region.

But cafes in main cities show films, sports games and video clips on large television sets.

Arab News noted that Saudi filmmakers are getting more support abroad than inside the country. Saudi films have been featured at Gulf festivals but totally ignored at home.

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