March 12, 2018 / 5:12 PM / 6 months ago

Major plot twist for students at Saudi Arabia's first cinema school

JEDDAH (Reuters) - Student Sama Kinsara adjusts her camera at Saudi Arabia’s only cinema school, her dream of seeing her work on the big screen coming into focus after the lifting of the country’s 35-year ban on cinema.

“Everything is about to change,” the first-year student of “visual and digital production” at Effat University in Jeddah told Reuters.

Her course is to be renamed “cinematic arts”, dropping the deceptive title employed originally to help stay under the radar of religious police and local communities opposed to the idea of men teaching women how to make movies.

Kinsara and her classmates on the four-year, women-only course have been able to film outside the university grounds for the first time.

“A girl carrying a camera and shooting in the streets is pushing boundaries,” said Mohamed Ghazala, head of Effat’s Visual and Digital Production Department, which began the course in 2013.

A Saudi woman studies film making at a university in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia March 7, 2018. Picture taken March 7, 2018. REUTERS/Yasser Bakhsh

The changes follow the lifting of restrictions by reform-minded Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the last year.

Authorities hope that by opening 300 cinemas and building a film industry, more than $24 billion can be added to the economy and 30,000 jobs created.

Cinema is one of several new avenues for Saudi women, who can now attend soccer matches, take part in sport, and in a few months will be allowed to drive cars.

The deeply conservative kingdom is still one of most restrictive countries for women in the world, with a guardianship system requiring women to have a male relative’s approval for important decisions.

For film student Qurratulain Waheb, the chance to get off the university campus and film with her classmates is welcomed.

“Before, there was a problem if we had a camera in the malls, we were not allowed to enter the malls but things are getting smoother now when we have access,” said

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“When we have permissions it gets easier, it gets better and people are more accepting. They want to see what we’re doing.”

Reporting by Emily Wither; Editing by Patrick Johnston and Andrew Roche

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