The embodiment of Diff's mandate to promote Arab film-making on the world stage is the festival's out-of-competition Arabian Nights selection: a line-up of Arab films from the last 12 months.

This year's pick includes the kind of powerful documentaries one might expect to come out of the Middle East at this point in history, but also tender love stories and even the odd comedy caper. Antonia Carver, Arab programme consultant, says: 'This is the most diverse year for programming in the Arabian Nights segment by far. The point is to reflect the dreams, imagination, ideas and aspirations of the Arab world.'

One of the world premieres in the section is Barbara Cupisti's Vietato Sognare (literally, 'forbidden childhood'), a documentary about the impact of war and violence on the young people of Palestine as told in the words of an Israeli ex-soldier and a former Palestinian resistance fighter who now work as peace activists.

Another probing documentary is A Road To Mecca: The Journey Of Muhammad Asad, centring on Austrian-born Ashkenazi Jew Leopold Weiss, who converted to Islam in the 1930s and changed his name to Muhammad Asad. Tracking his journey through the Arab world to Mecca, the film makes subtle allusions to the contemporary dynamic between East and West.

Meanwhile, film-makers Steffen and Christian Pierce present Marrakech Inshallah, the story of two brothers who flee their rural home to seek their fortune in bustling Marrakech. Instead of success, however, they both find poverty and heartbreak in equal measure.

The aspirations of the young are a strong theme this year. The eponymous heroine of Lebanese production Niloofar, for example, is a 12-year-old girl who yearns to study in a village where education is reserved for boys. Similarly Ein Shams (literally 'eye of the sun') is about an 11-year-old whose ambition is to roam the shadowy district of Ein Shams in Cairo. A tale dealing with the use and abuse of power in Egyptian society, it stars none other than Boutros Boutros-Ghali, former general secretary of the United Nations.

Bringing a touch of whimsy to proceedings, Melodrama Habibi (Une Chanson Dans La Tete) is the first feature from Lebanese director Hany Tamba, and concerns a Lebanese one-hit wonder from the 1970s who now works on the reception of a Parisian hotel. Touted as 'Lost In Translation in Beirut', it is hoped the film will perform as well internationally as Nadine Labaki's 2007 Caramel.

As with previous editions, Diff 2008 recognises Arab film-makers working both regionally and internationally via the Muhr Awards across three categories: features, documentaries and shorts. Festival chairman Abdulhamid Juma says: 'We introduced the Muhr Awards in 2006 to provide a platform for Arab film; already they are among the most respected awards in the Arab world, bringing in a wealth of quality submissions.'

The majority of the Arab films shown at the festival will be available to international buyers via the festival's inaugural film market. 'Some 80% of the films will be uploaded on to our digital video library,' says Ziad Yaghi, director of the Dubai Film Market.