Arts & Culture COVID-19

Robots and a car wash in this Omani cinematic experience

A new project that promises to support Oman's filmmakers.

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By Afaf Bouagada

Just like in many countries around the world, Omanis will soon enjoy an outdoor cinematic experience. Muscat’s first drive-in cinema of its kind is ready to open its doors soon, with a capacity to accommodate nearly 500 vehicles. This initiative is not a product of the moment, but is the result of almost a year of experimentation and development.

Oman’s Drive-in Cinema is a 100 per cent Omani project, implemented by the Manather Qantab International Company. Sayyid Hemyar bin Abdullah Al Busaidi, Chairman of the Company’s Board of Directors, tells us that the goal behind this initiative is to provide fun and comfort in a modern and sophisticated way.

“I was inspired to start this idea last year, before Eid al-Adha. I’m a person who has been interested in business, and for a long time I intended to open a distinct cinema in my country, the Sultanate of Oman. This is how I thought of a drive-in cinema, but not in the old way as we may know it. We prefer to use modern technology in order to provide the best customer experience.”

The latest technology is implemented in this project. In addition to a high-definition 4K screen, a car’s audio speakers will be utilised to hear the sound of the movie, and will be able to be controlled by a special wave that the customer picks up on their phone, with the ability to control the volume however they want to.

Customers will be able to purchase their tickets online beforehand, thus ensuring a safe and contactless experience. Image: Oman Drive-in Cinema.

 “We had initially decided to use Bluetooth technology to deliver sound to cars,” says Sayyid Hemyar. “It is an inexpensive and more practical technique, but it could lead to complications. This is why we thought about going for FM frequencies, after we tested it during the trial period.”

The company launched a pilot event on the Omani Woman’s Day, which took place on October 17 of last year. The aim of the event was to experiment with approved equipment and technologies, and to further develop the project before opening it to the wider public this year.

 “Since last year, we have been conducting studies and opinion polls to find out what the Omani public prefers, and to provide the best services accordingly,” says Sayyid Hemyar.

With the spread of the Covid-19 virus around the world and with the implementation of social distancing measures, Sayyid Hemyar and his team saw this as the most appropriate period to open the cinema. At a time when we witnessed the application of a set of precautionary measures such as the closing of shopping malls, theaters, cinemas and the prevention of large gatherings, this project comes to help Omanis leave their homes and enjoy time out, while also maintaining social distancing measures. The customer will be able to buy their ticket online or from the location itself via their mobile phones. Even snack delivery will be automated by using robots, in cooperation with the Roboto Restaurant in Muscat, a unique dining venue where food is delivered by robots.

Snack delivery will be automated by using robots. Image: Oman Drive-in Cinema.

“Despite the negative repercussions of this health scourge that has affected us, and which we pray to God to end soon, the Covid-19 crisis has had a positive impact on the project. It motivated us to accelerate preparations and to open the space as soon as possible to serve the audiences, who are craving enjoyment and recreation while adhering to health conditions at the same time,” explains Sayyid Hemyar.

The aim of this initiative is not only to provide a new experience for Omanis, but also to provide jobs for unemployed nationals.

Sayyid Hemyar explains that “The team consists of 14 Omani nationals, and we do not intend to employ non-Omanis at this stage, provided that we open employment to other nationalities when we expand our operations in other countries. Our ultimate goal is to ??expand and open up branches in small cities and villages in Oman, and to further introduce the public to local and international cinematic productions.”

Although the project relies on its prepared schedule of screenings, showcasing international blockbusters that are appealing to the Omani public, the company plans to open the door for local, young creatives and independent productions in the future as part of their effort to encourage young people to be creative.

“Currently, our film program includes international films that are popular amongst the Arab public. We also intend to showcase independent films by young directors over time, provided that they have the necessary permits and that their works are in accordance with Omani law. This is the most important point we rely on in the selection process. This is in addition to considering the audience’s preference,” says Sayyid Hemyar.

In addition to helping to promote the arts and cultural scene in Oman, the team’s other priority is to promote Oman’s historic and touristic locations. “Our aim is not only to empower Omani cinema and introduce it to a wider audience, but we also aspire to include the tourism aspect in this initiative. From day one, I have been thinking of taking advantage of the spaces located near famous tourist destinations, and to bring the cinema experience there. We have picturesque natural spaces, where the audiences can enjoy movies in breathtaking environments.”

When discussing the date of the actual launch of the project, Sayyid Hemyar assures us that there is not much left, and that the team is in the final stage of preparations for the opening day, which will shed a light on local productions and will screen an Omani film.

 “We aspire to further introduce the audience to the local cinema, whether old or new, and to encourage Omani directors to be more creative. In keeping with this promise, the film that will be shown on the opening night will be an Omani production. But I cannot give further details so as not to spoil the surprise for the audience.”

For our friends from the Sultanate of Oman, the value of the tickets is set at 15 Omani rials per car and includes popcorn, beverages and a car wash service on-site.

As for the location, it is still a surprise. Follow their page on Instagram and stay tuned!

This article was translated from Arabic.

Afaf Bouagada is a Moroccan writer interested in culture, arts, and advancing women’s issues. She is a contributor to a number of Arabic digital platforms.

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