Harvey Weinstein and director Paul Haggis have joined the line-up of industry executives attending Abu Dhabi's inaugural Middle East International Film Festival (Oct 14-19).

After several weeks of negotiation, Weinstein has agreed to open the festival's Film Financing Circle (FFC) with a speech on international co-productions, while Haggis will teach a masterclass for young filmmakers. The director's latest film, In the Valley of Elah, will screen at the festival's closing night gala.

'Paul Haggis' masterclass is a first step in Abu Dhabi's commitment to elevating the calibre of filmmaking talent in the Emirates and the region,' said festival executive director Nashwa Al-Ruwaini.

Weinstein will also attend a two-day brainstorming retreat for international executives, which takes place before the FFC, with the aim of designing a blueprint for the embryonic Abu Dhabi Film Fund. Delegates are set to tour locations in the emirate, and the festival aims to facilitate discussions regarding possible co-productions with local financiers.

The FFC, headed up by Adrienne Briggs, also announced the six short-listed applicants for its pitching programme, the InCircle Pearl Grant, founded to link emerging filmmakers with international industry decision-makers. Over the three-day FFC event, six teams of industry insiders will work with filmmakers to develop marketing and finance strategies for their projects, culminating in a pitching forum that sees one project awarded a grant from the Abu Dhabi Film Fund.

The six shortlisted projects are:

Fadel Al Muhairi's A Corsair's Tale (UAE), a adventure revenge tale set between the Gulf and India, during the rule of the East India Company. The Emirati short filmmaker won local awards for Al Ghaith (2004), although his docudrama Under Construction was withdrawn from the Dubai International Film Festival in 2006, for 'technical reasons'.

Soman Chainani's Love Marriage (US), a 'romantic comedy of dueling weddings that threaten to tear an India family apart in the suburbs of London ', previously selected for the IFP market and short-listed for both the 2006 Sundance Director's Lab and Writer's Lab.

Rusudan Chkonia's Keep Smiling (Republic of Georgia) , which won the Focal-Swiss programme for filmmakers from the Caucasus as well as both the Talent Highlight Pitch award at the Berlinale Co-Production Market, and the best East-European project at the B2B Industrial Meetings in Belgrade. Chkonia also participated in The Residence du Festival Cannes with the project.

Max Gruber's We Kill What We Love (Austria), a 'dramatic love story and psychological thriller set in Vienna that pits a young Turkish woman's search for her missing sister against her own cultural roots'. Gruber's directorial debut, The Gate to Hell, won Best Director at the 31st Golden Chest International Film Festival.

Kayvan Mashayekh's Batting for Palestine (Iran/US), a drama about the friendship between a Jewish minor league baseball manager and a rebellious Palestinian youth. US resident Mashayekh's first feature film, The Keeper, was distributed in the US, Russia, and the UK.

John McFarlane's Friends & Money (UK), an adventure comedy about a treasure hunt that takes a group of best friends from New York City halfway around the world. McFarlane is director of the UK TV series Honky Sausages and a director at Radical Media, responsible for commercials and music videos.