September 29, 2023

Going to the Movies - Qatar’s Outdoor Cinema Experiences

Outdoor cinemas aren't a new concept. In fact, watching movies on outdoor screens has been a thing since the early 20th century, over 100 years ago. 

The first alfresco films were shown in Australia. In 1916, the Sun Picture Gardens in Broome opened its doors to guests, inviting them to sit on deck chairs around a temporary screen in the great outdoors to watch the latest flicks, proving that you didn't need a picture theatre to be entertained by the silver screen. Amazingly, the cinema is still in operation today! 

The outdoor trend spread quickly to Europe and the USA. However, in America, it was the invention of drive-in cinemas in the 1930s that really captivated audiences, with hundreds popping up across the country. Nonetheless, outdoor screens declined in the 1970s and 80s due to the increasingly favoured VHS, which allowed easier access to movies at home. It wasn't until the 1990s that the outdoor movie experience was brought back to life.

A clever engineer from Germany saved open-air flicks from becoming obsolete when he invented an inflatable cinema screen. Quick to assemble and disassemble, inexpensive to run, and flexible enough to erect anywhere, outdoor viewing got a new USP. Movies could now be watched in the most beautiful, unique and bizarre locations, adding a new dimension to their original attraction. Open-air screens emerged on beaches, in forests, old churches, parks, public squares and piazzas, rooftop locations, amphitheatres, castles, historical buildings and manor house gardens, to name but a few places.

Surprisingly, even in desert climes, open-air cinema thrives. Despite its infamous heat, Qatar hosts several outdoor cinemas during the winter months. The cooler evenings, picture-perfect backdrops on beaches, in parks, by marinas and surrounded by skyscrapers, and the fact that you won't need a blanket to keep warm make the country the ideal set-up for such cinematic experiences.

Qatar’s Open-Air Cinemas

Image: BAZA

The Doha Film Institute (DFI), established in 2010 and designed to support the local film industry at home and abroad, is also responsible for Qatar’s outdoor movie screenings. The institute shows a multitude of films every year in collaboration with other institutes and organisations across the capital. Movies played include international blockbusters, independent films, shorts and those funded and supported as part of the institute's ‘Made in Qatar’ programme. Screenings are hosted in various locations - in cinemas, theatres and outdoors as part of DFIs Cinema Under the Stars and Lusail Drive-In experiences.

Cinema Under the Stars

Doha’s Cinema Under the Stars outdoor movie nights have been running for the last six years, offering free film showings to anyone who cares to join. 

The seasonal pop-up movie theatre, complete with deck chairs, majlis and snack options, has graced some fantastic locations. Film lovers have watched some classics and favourites in Aspire Park, one of Doha city's largest green spaces. In Hotel Park, outside the famous Sheraton Hotel with the cityscape of West Bay looming behind the screen, at Katara Hills, overlooking the ocean and the city, in the Museum of Islamic Art Park, beneath the impressive architecture of the museum, and at Heenat Salma Farm, Qatar's first eco-farm located in Shahaniya north-west of Doha. Guests have watched family-friendly movies, such as Despicable Me, Moana, Jungle Book, Raya and the Last Dragon, Annie, Brave, Monsters Inc, Back to the Future, Rocky and Planet Earth, a host of documentaries and shorts and independent films, such as The Noble Tree, Passport and Bekas, all under the stars. 

In 2023, the open-air cinema will play out the season at the Museum of Islamic Art Park. Visitors can sit back and relax surrounded by manicured gardens, next to the blue waters of the Gulf, and with a view across the bay to the city’s skyscrapers. Films showing will include Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Frozen and Boy and the World.

Lusail Drive-In

Lusail Drive-In is a relatively recent addition to Doha's big screen portfolio, first showing movies in 2020. The cinema was set up in response to the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions on entertainment but has become a regular fixture during Qatar's winter season due to its success and popularity. 

Visitors to the drive-in park their cars in sight of the screen, located in front of some of Lusail's most impressive skyscrapers. With a background of superstructures lit up against the night sky, the drive-in screen is an impressive sight, even before the film is projected. And with a carload costing just QAR 100-150 per show, food available to order to your car, and some great movies on offer, it's no wonder the experience is so well-liked. 

Past movies have included classics such as The Devil Wears Prada, A Beautiful Mind, Home Alone, The Blind Side, and Harry Potter, Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella, The Hunger Games, The Life of Pi, and a host of Disney movies, such as Finding Nemo, Beauty and the Beast, Dumbo and Mary Poppins.

Booking and Contact Details

Image: BAZA

To find out what’s on and where for Qatar’s outdoor and drive-in cinemas, check out the Doha Film Institute events page on their website, Doha Film Institute, or call on +974 4420 0505.

Main image: BAZA

Published: September 29, 2023
Last updated: September 29, 2023
Related Articles