'Dubai is a marketing machine. Everybody knows that,' says Dubai International Film Festival (Diff) chairman Abdulhamid Juma. His comment comes at the end of a month that has seen, as if to prove his point, the $2m celebrity-crammed, Kylie Minogue-serenaded opening of Dubai's crunch-defying Atlantis, the Palm mega-hotel.

It is fair to say that, when Dubai's film festival was first conceived back in 2001, it was not without thought for the PR buzz and headlines such a red-carpet event might generate for a city keen to change gears from reliance on oil to a future in luxury tourism.

'We had a lot of people on our case from the start,' recalls Juma. 'Because there is this attitude in Dubai that everything must be the biggest, tallest and best. I was quite honest with them. When people asked, 'How will Dubai compare to Cannes'', I'd say, 'The difference is 60 years of history.''

Juma and his team were quick to play catch-up, however, and not just in terms of column inches.

'We travelled to other festivals. We brought in world-class consultants. We understood that we needed to win the respect of the international industry.

'At the end of the day, there has to be a business side to the festival - you can offer people free flights and a beautiful hotel on the beach, but they're not going to return unless there is business to be done.'

If its roster of world premieres and international talent is anything to go by, Diff 2008 means business. Some 12 features and four short films will debut at the Madinat Jumeirah, the setting for the main festival screenings.

In accordance with the niche carved for the festival by its creators, the majority are of Arab origin or concern aspects of the Arab world.

For example, Najwa Najjar's gala presentation Pomegranates And Myrrh, screening as part of the Arabian Nights section, about a female Palestinian dancer's search for freedom, was filmed in the occupied territories.

There are also submissions from further afield, including South Korea and the Netherlands. In recognition of shared goals and challenges, the Muhr awards, the backbone of the festival, have been expanded to incorporate Asia and Africa.

Oliver Stone will be in Dubai to support opening night film W and Hollywood stars Nicolas Cage, Brendan Fraser and Danny Glover will bring a touch of glamour to the cool desert nights. Cage is attending with legendary producer Charles Roven (the pair are teaming on Season Of The Witch), who will receive a film-maker of the year award in recognition of his work on The Dark Knight.

Salma Hayek, Goldie Hawn and Bollywood's Preity Zinta, meanwhile, are all set to appear on the 2008 Amfar Cinema Against Aids fundraiser red carpet, picking up where Sharon Stone left off last year. Arab stars include Lebanese actress Carmen Lebbos and the United Arab Emirates' (UAE's) own Jaber Naghmoosh.

As the guest list hints, the 2008 edition of Diff features a diverse set of programmes showcasing cinema from around the globe. All are chosen in the spirit of the festival's ethos, 'Bridging Cultures, Meeting Minds'.

The Cultural Bridge programme, for example, hosts features and documentaries telling stories or describing events that serve to break down inter-racial intolerance. Arabian Nights is an out-of-competition meditation on Arab identity. Emirati Voices, meanwhile, features cinema from UAE talent, and is intended as a platform for young film-makers.