The Abu Dhabi government has signed a deal to establish a branch of the New York Film Academy (NYFA), the first film and acting school in the Gulf.

Mohamed Khalaf Al Mazrouei, the director-general of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH), Jerry Sherlock, Director, President and Founder of the NYFA, and the school's provost and director of education, Michael Young, signed a Memorandum of Understanding in New York yesterday. The school, NYFA's first in the Middle East, is set to open in Jan 2008.

Abed Awad, president of the recently formed Abu Dhabi Film Commission, and legal counsel on the deal, told Screendaily that ADACH had studied film schools around the world, but 'shortlisted the NYFA for its practical film curriculum and its ability to adapt to the type of industry we need in the region.' ADACH was rumoured also to be in discussions with the London Film School, although it is unclear whether these negotiations are ongoing.

The NYFA Abu Dhabi's focus will be on developing indigenous talent, said Awad: 'Ultimately, we need a local film industry if we're able to participate in the global film industry and build creative capital.'

Abu Dhabi, the federal capital of the UAE, has so far nurtured young, mainly short-film directors through its annual Emirates Film Competition, founded and run by Arab film specialist Masoud Amralla Al Ali.

ADACH, headed by chairman Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoun Al Nahyan, oversees the development of the new cultural quarter Saadiyat Island - which, come 2018, will include branches of the Guggenheim and Louvre museums - as well as the emirate's plans to develop film production. 'It is my hope that this initiative, along with other projects, such as the Middle East International Film Festival, will aid us in achieving our mission of promoting culture in Abu Dhabi,' said Mohamed Khalaf Al-Mazrouei.

Abu Dhabi has sought to distinguish itself from neighbouring Dubai, and other festival and industry centers in the region, by promoting its government-led industry and education agenda. The NYFA deal follows the opening of the Sorbonne Abu Dhabi, France's first international educational 'export', and government officials are also in discussions with Yale University.

Abu Dhabi's inaugural film festival has a budget of $8m and runs Oct 12-17, 2007, during the Eid holiday. Headed by producer and local TV personality Nashwa Al Ruwaini, it is being styled as a business summit for film financiers and producers, although the organisers are yet to announce any detailed plans. The Abu Dhabi Film Commission is also at the planning stage. Contrary to some press reports, the government is yet to formally bankroll any projects, although Al Ruwaini said that there would be 'an unlimited fund for films of interest to the UAE'.