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Saudi Arabia Launches Construction on Entertainment Hub, Opens First Full-Service Production Facility

Saudi Arabia’s dive into the world of entertainment continues apace.

Ten days after “Black Panther” ended the country’s 35-year cinema ban, King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Saturday inaugurated construction of the new Qiddiya entertainment complex outside the capital, Riyadh, on a site described as being two-and-a-half times the size of Disney World. The complex will offer everything from theme parks to car-racing.

And on Monday, what’s being touted as the country’s first full-service production facility, Nebras Films, announced that it is now up and running, and hoping to attract international productions.

The Qiddiya ground-breaking ceremony on Saturday, attended by about 300 dignitaries from around the world included a recitation from the Quran, a live orchestra, fireworks, and an opening address from Qiddiya CEO Michael Reininger, who called it a watershed moment, according to a press statement.

“In creating Qiddiya, we are building a brighter future,” Reininger said, adding that it was a future “filled with culture, sports, entertainment and the arts that responds to the Saudi people’s desire for new and accessible activities that enrich their lives.”

Until recently, Saudi Arabia has been largely devoid of these activities for religious reasons but is instead now pursuing them as part of the Vision 2030 plan being implemented by the Saudi crown prince (pictured) to wean the economy off of oil and create jobs for young Saudis within a more globalized society. Reininger, a former Disney exec, invited investors from around the world to take note of the opportunities of the untapped entertainment market in Saudi Arabia, where roughly two-thirds of the population of 32 million is under the age of 35.

Reininger said that the Qiddiya entertainment city 25 miles outside Riyadh would be 100 times the size of New York’s Central Park. The goal is to attract 17 million visitors by 2030.

Qiddiya is envisioned as a gigantic entertainment hub with facilities divided into six main components: amusement parks, one of which is to be built by U.S. group Six Flags; sports tracks, auto- and motorcycle-racing areas on desert and asphalt tracks; indoor ski slopes and water parks; natural attractions; and cultural and heritage events. The project includes resorts, hotels, restaurants and residential units.

The inauguration ceremony marked the official launch of the project’s first phase of development, slated for completion in 2022, at which point the plan is to attract 1.5 million visitors annually. Local media have said the infrastructure, which is initially being bankrolled by Saudi’s Public Investment Fund, could cost as much as $8 billion.

Meanwhile, the newly opened Nebras Films production facility is looking to lure more international shoots after recently wrapping its first international co-production “Born a King,” directed by Spain’s Augusti Villaronga. The film is a biopic about the origins of present-day Saudi Arabia, based on the story of 14-year-old Prince Faisal, who in 1919 was sent by his father, the king of Saudi Arabia, to London on a diplomatic mission to secure the formation of his country.

Shot in London and Saudi Arabia, “Born a King” is a Spanish-British co-production on which Oscar-winning Spanish producer Andres Vicente Gomez (“Belle Epoque”) worked in tandem with Stuart Sutherland’s Celtic Films Entertainment.

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