Abu Dhabi's Middle East International Film Festival (Oct 14-19) today announced the winners of its competition for Emirati filmmakers. Hani Al Shaibani, whose second feature Jumaa and the Sea screens at the festival, and Fadel Al Muhairi, who participated in the festival's pitching programme with his Gulf-based period action-adventure project A Corsair's Tale, each received $27,000 (Dhs100,000) from the Abu Dhabi Media Company (ADMC).

In addition, the ADMC, with sponsor Al Sorouh, has pledged a further $150,000 in equipment and facilities for Emirati filmmakers. The ADMC, chaired, like MEIFF, by Mohammed Khalaf Al Mazrouei, recently formed an alliance with Warner Bros Entertainment to develop a theme park and hotel, cinemas, studios and a co-finance deal covering feature film production and video games.

The winners of the Hayah Film Competition, open to Middle Eastern filmmakers making shorts to be shown on ipods, were Fatima Al Shamsi (student category), Kamil Roxas (amateur) and Ziad Oakes (professional). Each receives $5,000 and a one-year scholarship to attend the New York Film Academy's new Abu Dhabi campus, opening in February 2008.

The annual Emirates Film Competition for local short filmmakers, founded and previously directed by Dubai International Film Festival director Masoud Amralla Al Ali, will run as usual in February 2008, before moving to coincide with the MEIFF in October.

In a further move aimed at enhancing opportunities for the UAE's fledgling indigenous industry, the MEIFF is launching a screenwriters' lab in January 2008. 'The focus will be on Middle Eastern filmmakers, but it'll be open to international screenwriters,' said festival director Jon Fitzgerald. 'We're opening up the submissions process soon, and will have twelve finalists by spring 2008, who will be invited to participate in intensive workshops with international professionals in Abu Dhabi.'

While the format and details of the lab were yet to be finalized, Fitzgerald announced that writer-director Paul Haggis would be part of a team of mentors and advisors involved in the project.

'The Arab world has such a strong tradition of storytelling and poetry, and it's time we looked for your voices in film and on TV,' Haggis said, at the festival to run a masterclass for young filmmakers and present closing night film In the Valley of Elah.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, Jordan's Royal Film Commission runs a screenwriters' lab in association with Sundance, Tunisia's Nomadis hosts the North African initiative Sud Ecriture, and eQuinoxe Arabiya, an incubator focused on mentoring Arab writers and directors, was set up earlier this year in Dubai Media City.