Abu Dhabi's inaugural Middle East International Film Festival (Oct 14-19) has announced its line-up of Arab films, plus its closing night gala - Paul Haggis's In the Valley of Elah. The Venice critics' favourite adds to an international line-up of Iraq-themed, festival hits; other 'special presentations' (gala screenings) include Todd Haynes' I'm Not There, Brian de Palma's Redacted, Gavin Hood's Rendition, and Claude LeLouch's Roman de Gare.

The newly formed Abu Dhabi Media Company (ADMC), which shares a chairman - Mohammed Khalaf Al Mazrouie - with the film festival, is sponsoring a $100,000 cash prize for a UAE filmmaker, chosen from submissions made to the festival.

The ADMC, along with Abu Dhabi's largest property developer Aldar, recently formed a strategic alliance with Warner Bros to develop a theme park and hotel, multiplex cinemas, and a co-finance agreement covering feature film production and the development and publication of video games in the emirate.

First-time feature filmmaker Nadine Labaki, director of Cannes hit Caramel, has been named as Variety Middle East Filmmaker of the Year, an award that will be presented at the festival. Caramel is screening in the MEIFF official competition.

The only hiccup so far in Abu Dhabi's rapid rise as a potential film hub has been a mix-up over the selection of an Israeli film, Eran Kolirin's Cannes favourite The Band's Visit. Initially invited to play in competition at the festival, the film was then omitted from the final line-up. 'There was a miscommunication between the LA and Abu Dhabi offices of the festival,' said a spokesperson for the festival.

The festival declined to comment whether it could or would invite Israeli films in the future. (Like most of the Gulf states, the UAE does not have diplomatic relations with Israel and generally bans Israeli passport-holders from entering the country.)

The festival also announced its line-up of films in the Middle East Spotlight, GCC (Gulf Co-operation Council) Films and Arab Women Directors categories, programmed by Egyptian critic Samir Farid. These add to previous announcements of the festival's In Competition films and Special Presentations.

The three Arab sections of the festival include a mix of 31 feature, documentary and short films from 12 countries in the region. Given the fledging nature of the Gulf's industries, many of the films have been seen before - although the festival is premiering one of a handful of features to emerge from the Emirates, Hani Al Shaibany's Jumaa and the Sea, plus a selection of shorts from Saudi Arabia.

The GCC programme also includes a rare screening of the Gulf's first feature film, Kuwaiti director Khalid El-Siddiq's The Cruel Sea (Bas Ya Bahr), made in 1971.

The films in the Middle East Spotlight are:
Shadow of Silence (Dhalal Al Samt), dir Abdullah Al Muheisen (Saudi Arabia)
Crossing the Dust (Parinawa La Ghobar), dir Shawkat Amin Korki (Kurdistan-Iraq)
The Dawn (Al Boom), dir Khalid Al-Zadjali (Oman)
Desert Heat, dir John Hollingsworth (UAE)
From Within: Their Stories (Minhom Feehom), dir Maggie Morgan (Egypt)
The Greatest of Sins (Akbar Al Kaba'ir), dir Youssef Hesham (Egypt) (short)
Her Man (Ragilha), Aiten Amin (Egypt) (short)
Jumaa and the Sea (Jumaa Wa Al Bahr), dir Hani Al Shaibany (UAE)
Two Women on the Road (Imra'atan 'Ala Al Tareeq), dir Farida Bourquia (Morocco)
When the People Spoke ('Indama Takalam Al Sha'ab), dir Amer Al Zuhair (Kuwait)