Now in its fourth year, the Dubai International Film Festival (Diff) has become a focal point for the Persian Gulf's growing interest in the film industry as an economic, cultural and PR platform.
Festival chairman Abdulhamid Juma points out that until recently, the territory was known in the film world chiefly "as a backdrop for Syriana" - but now, with that film's star George Clooney flying in for the opening gala screening of his latest title, Michael Clayton, "we've come full circle".
Other highlights of the 2007 edition, whose main competition line-up has yet to be announced, include the world premiere of Emilio Estefan's documentary 90 Miles, about Cuban emigre musicians in the US; and the Celebration of Indian Cinema sidebar. According to Juma, "we're hoping for a bigger and better event this year and are expecting to attract a 25% increase on 2006", when 36,000 admissions were recorded, and more than 1,000 industry guests flew in.
Further support for the Middle East production scene comes from the Muhr Awards for Arab Cinema, a competition open to directors of Arab nationality or descent which hands out $325,000 in prizes. Launched in 2006, the awards were the idea of local curator and critic Masoud Amralla Al Ali, appointed as the festival's artistic director in August this year.
Abdulhamid Juma plays down talks of rivalry with Abu Dhabi, the new kid on the cinema block in the United Arab Emirates, whose inaugural Middle East International Film Festival (Meiff) kicked off this October. According to the Diff chairman, Abu Dhabi "is proof of the genuine appetite for film throughout the region, which will ultimately make it more appealing to film-makers, distributors, sales agents and the film community as a whole".
Diff's parent organisation, the Dubai Technology and Media Free Zone Authority, is further expanding what many consider to be an overstretched roster of local festivals by launching a Gulf Film Festival (April 9-15) in association with Dubai Studio City, the film-studio offshoot of UAE media hub Dubai Media City. A cousin rather than a competitor of Diff - the two share key personnel - the new festival intends to focus on films from the Persian Gulf states.