The Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF), which will run from Dec 9 to 16, 2007, has announced that CEO and festival director Neil Stephenson has stepped down.

Co-artistic directors Simon Field and Masoud Amralla Al Ali have increased responsibility for the programme direction, according to a statement, and report directly to Abdulhamid Juma, deputy director general of the Dubai Technology and Media Free Zone Authority and chairman of DIFF. Juma will again oversee the 2007 edition of the festival, with managing director Shivani Pandya continuing in charge of operations.

Stephenson moved to Dubai from Canada in 2003 to launch the festival in December 2004, but had a reduced public presence during the 2006 edition, when the focus of the festival turned more to Arab cinema and establishing an industry platform.

The 2007 festival organisers are aiming to beef up the industry office and associated events, launched in 2006. The Muhr Awards for Arab Cinema, now in their second year, were described as 'a vital part of future festival editions'. With a combined purse of $325,000, the Awards are the most generous in the region, and were hailed as a success - in terms of their organisation and the recognition of key filmmakers - in 2006.

The DIFF has quickly risen to become the Middle East 's dominant festival, particularly as regards Arab film programming and international industry activity. Reflecting Dubai 's status as the regional business centre, and the city's ambition to be a production player, the festival is far better funded than other regional festivals, including Marrakech and Cairo. But the scale of its ambition and the lack of an established film festival culture have led to some teething problems over the years, particularly with ticketing, and industry and press events.