The Dubai International FilmFestival (DIFF), now in its third year, opens on Dec 10 with Emilio Estevez's Bobby, one of 115 films from 47countries. Actors Laurence Fishburne and Joshua Jackson will accompany thefilm. Oliver Stone, Syrian auteur Nabil Maleh and leading man Shah Rukh Khanare this year's honourees, and will be joined in the emirate by several otherBollywood and Egyptian stars. Producer Barrie Osborne, looking to shoot new projectThe Alchemist in the United Arab Emirates, will also be visiting.

Mai Masri's featuredocumentary Beirut Diaries:Truth, Lies and Video, DjamilaSahraoui's Barakat! and Rachid Bouchareb's Daysof Glory are among the films competing in the new Muhr Awards for Arabfeatures, documentaries and shorts, which have a combined purse of $325,000.

Jury members includedirectors Jafar Panahi, Mohamed Asli and Ismael Ferroukhi, and Kim Dong-Ho,director of the Pusan International Film Market. There are two world premieres:Walid Al-Awadi's Storm From The South,a portrait of three Kuwaiti women running for office for the first time,included in a strong line-up of Arab documentaries, and Egyptianwriter-director Khalid Youssef's out-of-competition thriller Justified Cheating, featured as a galascreening at resort Madinat Jumeirah, the festival centre.

International festivalfavourites The Wind That Shakes The Barley, Babel,Hollywoodland andKabul Express make up the other gala screenings. A section aimed atpromoting cross-cultural understanding between the Muslim world and the Westfeatures the portmanteau film All the Invisible Children, with shortsdirected by Spike Lee, EmirKusturica, and John Woo, among others. Filmsthat should raise debate in Dubaiinclude Gabriel Range'sDeath of a President, and Laura Poitras's compelling Iraq documentary MyCountry, My Country.

Co-artisticdirector Simon Field has introduced a selection of Cinema for Children, and retained sections dedicated to Africa and Asia. With the competitions, theArabian Nights programme, and shorts by Emirati directors, Arab films make up50% of the programme, overseen by Masoud Amralla Al Ali.

This marks a shift inapproach from the festival, criticised in the past within the Middle East film community for its fervour for celebrities,particularly those hailing from Hollywood, over networking opportunities for regionaldirectors.

This year also sees thelaunch of an industry office, run in association with Dubai Studio City,plus a series of panels and masterclasses. Dubai's desire to play the role of matchmaker is inevidence: one initiative is aimed as assisting Lebanese filmmakers to meetdistributors, producers and potential financiers.