Saudi Arabia launches $34.7b entertainment revolution

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After repealing a decades-long ban on cinemas only last year, Saudi Arabia has now launched an ambitious drive to become a culture and entertainment hub as part of sweeping modernisation plans.

American film star Katie Holmes and British actor-cum-director Idris Elba rubbed shoulders with Saudi officials, as the kingdom recently kicked off an initiative to invest 130 billion riyals ($34.7b) in culture and leisure by 2020.

The goal is to create "a true cultural industry, with theatres, cinemas and training centres," said Ahmad Al Mazid, who leads culture policy for Saudi Arabia.

Key projects include 16 entertainment complexes, an aquatic centre and three other huge leisure hubs - all part of a bid to ensure three Saudi cities make it into the global top 100 for quality of life. The project, dubbed "Quality of Life Programme 2020," is in part designed to encourage wealthy young citizens to spend more of their leisure time in the kingdom, where more than half the population is below the age of 25.