"For me, success in the Middle East is as important as success anywhere else," says Franco-Lebanese director Philippe Aractingi, whose second feature Under The Bombs - a heartfelt road movie featuring jarring images of Israel's recent war in Lebanon - won the Gold award in Diff 2007's Muhr Awards. "For me, an award from Dubai is as important as a Golden Lion from Venice. Being selected to show at Diff is as exciting as being selected for Sundance." (Under The Bombs went on to screen at Sundance.)

Aractingi should know - since he walked away with Dubai's top award (and $50,000 prize money), the international festival circuit has been quick to recognise him, the film and its two lead actors. "I think we've received 15 awards since Dubai," he says.

News of Aractingi's success in Dubai also made its way to the wider industry in the West. "After the award, all of a sudden I was getting e-mails from agents in the US and people I know over there were saying, 'Mubarak' (Arabic for congratulations) and 'bravo'.

"We now have a distributor in the US (Film Movement) and there is even talk of us being chosen for the Lebanese selection for the Oscars."

The money, too, was very helpful. "When you're awarded a grant of this magnitude, it allows you to carry on what you are doing. Arab cinema is still in its infancy. Jordan, for example, has been able to produce just one feature film in the last 15 years. That's because it is tough for us to make films. I am a father of three; I struggled for 20 years and I made 40 documentaries before I was able to make my own first feature (2005's Bosta).

"The Muhr award is a personal prize, so they don't tell you how to spend it. I have used it to sustain my work; it has given me the freedom and the means to write more scripts, to network meaningfully and to show my existing work internationally - that's important to me. Under The Bombs was a cry from the heart. All I ever wanted was for people to hear it."

Tunisian director Nejib Belkadhi, whose comedy VHS Kahloucha also went on to screen at Sundance after winning Gold in the documentary category of Diff's inaugural Muhr Awards in 2006, says: "I really wasn't expecting to win a Muhr award. For us, it was just important to be here to show our film at this festival."