Adding to a plethora of prizes, Abu Dhabi 's Middle East International Film Festival (MEIFF), Oct 14-19, has launched an iPod competition for Middle Eastern short filmmakers. The Hayah (meaning 'life' in Arabic) Film Competition is open to students, professionals and amateurs making films for the iPod screen.

Winners will be selected via audience votes, received online before and during the festival; submissions close on Sept 27.

International fiction, documentary and short films are eligible for MEIFF's Black Pearl and audience awards, while Middle Eastern films compete for a jury prize. Ian Birnie, director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, heads up the jury. (Non-competitive sections include spotlights on Bollywood, Women in Arab Cinema, and the Films from the Gulf.)

In an effort to build local audiences, the festival is offering free entry to its three screens at opulent hotel Emirates Palace, the festival centre.

Winning filmmakers receive production grants towards their next projects from the Abu Dhabi Film Fund (ADFF), described by festival director and ADFF board member Jon Fitzgerald as more akin to a studio than a traditional grant-giving body. 'We hope to establish long term relationships with emerging talent,' Fitzgerald told

The festival's pitching programme, the InCircle Pearl, has received over 100 submissions from 27 countries (vying for six places). 'This is the first time that filmmakers will be brought together [for a three-day workshop] with studio executives prior to pitching their projects to the jury,' said Adrienne Briggs, director of the festival's co-production forum, the Film Finance Circle (FFC).

New additions to the FFC, Oct 15-17, include Ted Sarandos, chief content officer of US online movie rental service Netflix, and Egypt 's Issad Younis, of leading exhibitor-distributor Arabia.

Abu Dhabi, home to 10% of the world's known oil reserves, is riding high on the Gulf petrodollar boom. The government hopes to complement its commitment to the film fund with support from private backers, and will use the FFC to seek investment as well as potential projects to support. So far, its focus has been on trying to establish the festival as a destination for international executives and financiers, albeit it one far off the beaten track.

In this way, Abu Dhabi 's efforts are distinct from the larger, celebrity-hungry Dubai International Film Festival (Dec 9-16), now in its fourth year. Last year, DIFF focused on becoming a serious showcase for Arab film and the regional industry, a development confirmed by the recent appointment of curator and critic Masoud Amralla Al Ali as artistic director.