19 Jul 2009

Saudi film festival cancelled

11:40 am on 19 July 2009

The Jeddah Film Festival in Saudi Arabia has been cancelled.

The fourth Jeddah festival was expected to start on Saturday. Its cancellation was notified by the governor to the organisers on Friday night.

The week-long event was to have been a highlight of a summer festival in the city with a competition between eight Gulf feature films - two from Saudi Arabia - and dozens of short films.

Organisers said permission had been obtained from key ministries and regional and local officials before being officially announced.

The festival was being underwritten by the Rotana group, owned by Prince Alwaleed bin Talal.

However, his brother Prince Khalid bin Talal appeared on a religious television channel on Friday afternoon and strongly denounced films and the film festival, insisting they should be banned.

Movie theatres in Saudi Arabia were previously banned for almost three decades.

Cinema made a low-key return in December with a showing of a Saudi comedy, Menahi in Jeddah and another southern city.

Produced by a company owned by Prince Alwaleed, the film attracted such large numbers that it had to be screened up to eight times a day. It was shown before mixed audiences.

However, when it was brought to the capital Riyadh, Saudi newspapers reported that conservatives and volunteers with the religious police, tried to disturb screenings of the movie.