The Black Pearl - the grand prix of the new Middle East International Film Festival (MEIFF), unspooling for the first time in Abu Dhabi Oct 14-19 - will come with production grants for the winners' next films.

'The festival is determined to plant its flag right away,' said festival director Jon Fitzgerald, a veteran of Slamdance, the American Film Institute, and the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

The new festival will programme two competitions - one for features and documentaries, the other for shorts. The trophies for best film in each of the three categories include funding grants for the winners' next productions.

'We are not putting a floor or a ceiling to the awards,' said festival director Jon Fitzgerald. ' Abu Dhabi is really committed to supporting filmmakers worldwide as well as in the region.'

Centered at the $3bn Emirates Palace luxury hotel, the MEIFF will screen around 50 films in total, with 8-12 works by first or second-time directors in the main competition.

A Middle East Focus will comprise six to nine productions from the region; there will be international premieres, and the 60th anniversary of independent Indian filmmaking is celebrated with a Bollywood Spotlight.

'In the Film Financing Circle, set over three days, world industry leaders will share their insights on film financing, and filmmakers will have the opportunity to pitch their projects and win production grants,' Fitzgerald said. Rob Aft has been named consultant for the financing conference.

Abu Dhabi has recently set up a film commission and a film financing fund. Several international films have been shot in the emirate, such as US director Peter Berg's thriller The Kingdom, with Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Garner.

Fitzgerald, managing director Claudia Durgnat and conference director Adrienne Briggs paid a short visit to this week's Locarno International Film Festival, which focuses on the the Near and Middle East in its Open Doors sidebar.

With Nashway Al Ruwaini, head of Pyramedia, as executive director, the MEIFF has attached a team of programmers with Nancy Collet, previously with the AFI, and Alice Kharoubi, ex-Barcelona and Cannes. Ian Birnie has been named jury president.

The MEIFF has opened its call for entries and expects to present more than 50 films in its inaugrual programme.