The history of cinema in UAE

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The history of cinema in the UAE and in Dubai can be traced to the 1960s. In particular, it can be said to have started from the actions of one person frequently called the Father of Cinema. This person is Ahmad Golchin who came to the UAE in 1963 from Iran. In Iran, he studied publishing and was working as a publisher before he decided to quit his job and travel to the UAE to work in the film industry. When he arrived, he found an almost non-existent film industry and instead, the locals were bartering with Indian gold merchants to watch movies. These movies were mostly Bollywood films brought by these merchants. They would watch these movies in the only cinemas at the time which were the National cinema in Nasr square, a cinema in a military camp in Sharjah, and a cinema opened by a merchant in Jumeirah. These cinemas usually consisted of just a white painted wall and a projector with the people sitting on cardboard boxes or crates while watching the movie. Movie times were fixed and were difficult to advertise since there was no TV, radio, etc. back then. Instead, Golchin states that they would hang banners on the abras to advertise the movies or hired “town criers” who walked around in public places while wearing a sheet of paper/poster which showed the movies being played as well as the screening times. The movies being shown were also fixed – one set was shown on weekdays and one set was shown on weekends. There was very little variety because they were only able to get movies which came from India and rarely were there Hollywood or other types of movies.


People from all over the emirates would travel to these cinemas to watch movies. This made watching movies into a sort of inexpensive family outing. This led to the development of special places within the cinemas called “boxes” which allowed families to have their own privacy while watching. Sometimes, these families would bring picnic boxes and spread out mats on the floor of the cinema, or the grass, and make the whole experience seem like a family outing. This was usually done by these families in Rex Cinema at Al Kwahaneej Road.

To signify the beginning of a movie, a bell would be run by the cinema attendant. This same bell would be again be rung, 5 minutes before the end of the movie to indicate to taxi drivers that people would be leaving soon. This was because, as mentioned earlier, people from all over the emirates would come to watch movies in these cinemas and had to take taxis in order to be able to go back to their homes. The parking lots at that time were filled with camels and donkeys instead of the fancy cars seen in cinema parking lots nowadays.


During the 1970s, the National and Jumeirah cinemas were demolished and cinemas were built in Deira, Strand, Plaza, Al Nasr, and Dubai. The cinema in Deira was the first ever air-conditioned cinema in the emirates while Al Nasr primarily showed English movies. This continued on for some time until 1998 were Golchin took over Al Nasr cinema and made it the first ever cinema in the emirates to provide Dolby sound. This was followed by other innovations such as the twin screen cinema in the Galleria at the Hyatt Regency, the first ever twin cinema in Dubai. In Abu Dhabi, the first ever twin cinema was in El Dorado. After these came the emergence of multiplexes with the Grand Cineplex and Cinestar found at Deira City Centre as the first ones. New cinemas were also built such as Firdous and Al Maria in Abu Dhabi, and Golden Cinema in Dubai – the only cinema with a balcony in the entire Middle East.  Nowadays, cinemas can be found in almost all parts of the Emirates and have numbered more than 200. Additionally, more local film distribution companies have been opened allowing for the showing of more foreign films since the government has shown support for the film industry.


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