The festival, which begins on Sunday, has fast become a venue for new film-makers to try out movies on ethnically-mixed audiences in the cosmopolitan city.

Centre stage will be Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, a controversial movie directed by US comedian Albert Brooks that gets its world premiere on Thursday.

The film pokes fun at American ignorance of the Muslim world, but its eye-catching title caused Sony to pass up the chance to distribute it, fearing reprisals from Muslims in the West or the Islamic world, Brooks has said.

Brooks plays a comedian sent by the US State Department to India and Pakistan to find out what makes Muslims laugh, so everyone can get along better in the post-9/11 world.

Cosmopolitan audience

Dubai is home to 1.5 million

The film is set for US release in January by Warner Independent, the art-house unit of Warner Brothers.

Organisers say it is one of a series of films that cross the cultural divide between the West and Arab-Muslim East.

Hollywood crowd-pleasers are standard fare in Dubai, the most liberal and cosmopolitan city in the conservative Gulf region, with a 1.5 million population of Europeans, Africans and Asians.

Art-house and challenging cinema rarely get a look in.
The week-long festival opens with Paradise Now, which examines the hopelessness that makes an ordinary Palestinian want to kill himself in the struggle against Israeli occupation.

Martyrs or terrorists

"It discusses those who we consider seekers of martyrdom but who the West considers terrorists," programmer Masoud Amralla told reporters last week.

"It discusses those who we consider seekers of martyrdom but who the West considers terrorists"

Programmer Masoud Amralla

"It's a neutral film which lets the public decide who is the terrorist and who isn't."

The festival includes a documentary about the Israeli-backed Christian Lebanese Forces militia, which massacred Palestinian refugees at Sabra and Shatila camps in 1982.

It shows interviews with six of the perpetrators with their faces blacked out.

Screenings of the Dutch production, called Massaker, are nearly sold out.