The thirdDubai International Film Festival (DIFF) came to an end on Sunday evening witha resplendent ceremony in the desert to announce the winners of the inauguralMuhr Awards for Arab Cinema.

DjamilaSahraoui's French-Algerian production Barakat! unexpectedly took the $50,000award for feature filmmaking, followed by audience favourite Falafel, the one-night-in-Beirut drama byMichel Kammoun, which won the $40,000 Silver Muhr.

In thedocumentaries section, Tunisian director Nejib Belkadhi won the Gold for VHS- Kahloucha,recently accepted in competition at Sundance.

Prizes werealso given to emerging Emirati directors and scriptwriters, Arab shortsdirectors, and honorary awards to Syrian auteur Nabil Maleh and Oliver Stone.

The thirdDIFF honouree, Shah Rukh Khan, the most popular celebrity draw during theeight-day festival, was unable to attend the closing ceremony.

With acombined purse of $350,000, the awards are the most generous in the Arab world;the ceremony was an emotional, spirited occasion for the participatingdirectors, many being recognised here for the first time.

Khan hadbeen joined during the week on the red carpet at luxury resort Madinat Jumeirahby fellow Bollywood star John Abraham, and Laurence Fishburne, in town foropening film Bobby,among other American, Indian and Arab stars.

Thefestival attempted to "put words into action" with a midweek discussionfocussing on its mantra "building bridges, meeting minds", with Richard Gerejoining Stone, UTV chief Ronnie Screwvala, Bamako producer Maji-da Abdi,Egyptian directorMohammed Khan and Encounter Point's co-director andco-writer Julia Bacha on the panel, moderated by Al Jazeera International's RizKhan.

Whilepopular, the event was a rather lacklustre affair with even Stone resorting toplatitudes.

Otherpanels included conversations with Barrie Osborne and Tunisian producer Dora Bouchoucha, hosted by Screen International's editor in chief Colin Brown.

DIFF isaiming to set itself up as a centre for the regional industry, this yearlaunching an industry office managed by Jane Williams.

Around 350industry representatives attended the festival, including Fortissimo co-chairmanWouter Barendrecht, the Binger Lab's Ido Abram, Strand's Marcus Hu and JonGerrans, Georges Goldenstern (Cinefondacion), Naoko Tsukeda (Pony Canyon),Jerome Paillar of the Cannes film festival, Laird Adamson (HDNet FilmsInternational) and Iain Canning (head of acquisitions, Becker FilmsInternational).

Many hadbeen invited to participate in networking and pitching activities, included apresentation of five Lebanese films in development, principally to Europeanfunding bodies, and a two-day workshop for Emirati filmmakers "to introducethem to the concept of the international market."

"[Thisevent] may see one film pick up finance here," said Jane Williams.

Thissmattering of industry events exposed the dire need for "a pool of creativeproducers in the region", say the organisers, who are aiming to launch amatchmaking event, or project market, at next year's festival.

If, arguedother participants, DIFF can draw in Arab financiers and funding - whodidn't attend this year's meetings - then Dubai has a chance of really makingan impact on the regional industry.

Distributorsand producers noted that gala screenings and party events tended to belacklustre, with a combination of exclusive, sponsor-dominated invite lists andenforced dress codes contributing to many directors and press being unwillingor unable to attend.

Visitingindustry professionals, whose expectations had been raised by Dubai'sreputation as a business and tourist hub, business class flights and theluxurious, efficient hotels, were hoping for more personalised, productivenetworking opportunities.

Andglitches continue to thwart DIFF's ambition to be a top-class, internationalfestival.

An Emiratifilm, included in the Arab shorts competition, was mysteriously withdrawn atthe last moment, with DIFF citing "technical reasons."

But in themain screenings programme, both the regional industry and local audienceswarmly welcomed the competitions and expanded programme of Arab cinema, whichnow makes up 50% of the programming.

Other hitswere in the best-of-fest vein, including closing night film Babel, Paris JeT'aime, an outdoorscreening of Volver, French-Algerian hit Days Of Glory, now likely to be picked up by a Middle Eastdistributor.

The MuhrAwards for Arab Cinema


Gold Muhr: Barakat!, (Djamila Sahraoui, France/Algeria)

Silver: Falafel (Michel Kammoun, Lebanon)

Bronze: WhyOh Sea (Hakim Belabbes,Morocco)


Gold: VHS- Kahloucha (NejibBelkadhi, Tunisia)

Silver: Amina,Khadija Al-Salami (Yemen)

Bronze: IAm The One Who Brings Flowers To Her Grave, (Hala Alabdalla and Ammar Al Beik, Syria)


Gold: MakeA Wish (CherienDabis, Palestine)

Silver: TheMagic Crop (AnisLassoued, Tunisia)

Bronze: BeQuiet (Sameh Zoabi,France/Palestine)

Most PromisingEmirati Filmmaker Award

Waleed AlShehhi (Ahmad Sulaiman, UAE, 2006)