Saudis were promised 2019 would be the kingdom's "Year of Entertainment" and they haven't been let down. On Sunday, the chairman of the country's General Entertainment Authority (GEA), Turki Al Al-Sheikh, hosted the opening of Saudi Arabia's very first Joy Forum which was held at Riyadh's Ritz Carlton.
The two-day conference event featured tens of talks and workshops aimed at enhancing the local entertainment sector. Major global star power was in attendance at the Forum's launch gala dinner and Excellence Award Ceremony.
International celebrities including Jackie Chan, Jean Claude Van Damme, Shah Rukh Khan, and Jason Momoa received awards at the event. It wasn't only global stars who descended on Saudi Arabia for the ceremony as Arab stars were all there for it, too. Stars like Hussein Al Jasmi, Amr Diab, Assala, Ragheb Alama, Diana Haddad, Nawal Al Zoghbi, Mohammed Henedy, and Yousra walked the red carpet of the event, which brought together 500 central players in the world's entertainment industry.
On the second day of the event, over 30 speakers spoke and conducted various workshops covering everything from virtual reality to content creation. Local media outlets reported that several important entertainment deals and agreements were signed during the two-day fair.
GEA officials believe the forum will help further build and enhance Saudi Arabia's entertainment industry, which has already been booming under the country's Vision 2030.
Years back, it would've been impossible to imagine a cinema or concert in the kingdom. It was a time when locals had to travel to Bahrain and other neighboring countries to watch a film or attend musical performances. But things have rapidly transformed under the ambitious blueprint, which mainly aims at diversifying the kingdom's economy.
In recent months, the country has been gradually driving its efforts away from oil-rich profits and putting forth a more diverse economic strategy. That includes generating income from tourism and entertainment sectors.
Saudi Arabia's entertainment game is on
From lifting its long-standing ban on cinemas to hosting concerts and musical events, Saudi Arabia's dormant entertainment scene has come back to life. In the first few months of the country's shift towards advancing its entertainment sector, most of the action was taking place in Jeddah — often described as the more lax city in Saudi Arabia.
Earlier this year, the country hosted Jeddah Season, a month-long festival that ended with a massive music show as some of the biggest names in the industry took the stage. At the start of the season, authorities announced that anyone who purchases a ticket to attend any of the festival's events will be granted a visa within three minutes.
However, Riyadh is now on the entertainment map, too, and is currently hosting a huge festival. Titled Riyadh Season, the event is set to run from Oct. 15 to Dec. 15 and will cover 12 main zones of the capital and six branches around the city.