Dubai International Film Festival has promoted Masoud Amralla Al Ali, previously head of Arab programming, to the position of artistic director.

He will work alongside festival chairman Abdulhamid Juma and managing director Shivani Pandya, and be supported by Simon Field, who oversees international programming. Other members of the programming team include Sheila Whitaker, the former head of the London Film Festival, who returns to the Gulf emirate for the fourth year.

Amralla has been involved with the DIFF since its launch in 2004, combining his programming role at the Dubai festival with heading up the cinema department at Abu Dhabi's Cultural Foundation. He has been at the forefront of developments in cinema in the Gulf, nurturing and promoting young shorts directors through the Emirates Film Competition (EFC), and is well known within the region as a curator and critic.

Amralla resigned from his position in Abu Dhabi in July.

The federal capital, an hour-and-a-half's drive away from Dubai, recently announced plans for its own festival and industry event, the Middle East International Film Festival, to be held October 14-19.

Amralla was responsible for launching DIFF's Muhr Awards for Arab cinema in

2006 and has steered the Dubai festival towards promoting a comprehensive line-up of regional cinema, alongside international programmes.

Offering $325,000 in prize money for shorts, documentaries and features, the Muhr awards are the most generous in the region. DIFF is now accepting submissions for the 2007 awards, with a deadline of Aug 31. The competition is open to filmmakers of Arab nationality or descent, with films themed around Arab history, culture, or issues that concern the region.

The 2007 DIFF, which runs from Dec 9-16, also sees the launch of a new industry initiative - the Dubai Film Connection, a project market for ten Arab fiction and documentary feature-length projects. Directors and producers will take part in pitching and networking events with international industry guests, and compete for three grants of $15,000, awarded by the festival.