The stars were out, and not only in the skies as the Gulf Film Festival opened at Festival City. Dennis Haysbert joined the hot you ng filmmakers and movie stars from around the region.

Local film-makers had their first taste of red carpet glamour as the stars of the Arab world and beyond dressed to impress for the opening of the Gulf Film Festival 2009 (GFF).

Young Emirati movie fans lined the railings at Dubai Festival City in a desperate bid to catch a glimpse of their favourite stars, while up-and-coming film-makers walked the red carpet, many for the first time.

Talented aspiring director Aisha Abdul Rahman beamed on her way to the theatre. "This is so much more than I ever expected," she said as she tried to contain her excitement.

While many of the guests and film-makers may have been taking the walk for the first time, there were a few old hands. An ever-confident Dennis Haysbert - better known as President David Palmer from television series 24 - looked comfortable as he signed autographs and waved to fans.

Dressed in a sharp black suit, fit for any position in the White House, Haysbert flashed a big white smile at every given opportunity. "I am honoured to be here at the Gulf Film Festival," he said, his trademark deep voice making people look twice as if almost amazed that he sounds exactly as he does on the show.

"I want to immerse myself in the culture of film here in the Middle East to fully appreciate the struggles and success of the people of the region. I am having a wonderful time and cannot wait to meet a few local film-makers."

Even Dubai Abouhoul, 12, who is no stranger to the glitz and glamour of opening night after picking up a special recognition award for being the youngest film-maker at last year's event, had to watch her feet as the crowd cheered and clapped when the American actor arrived at the venue. "I didn't know what had happened," she laughed, wearing a purple satin dress and her long dark hair loose around her face.

"Now I really feel famous."

Local stars who joined Haysbert included cinema stalwarts such as Abdul Rahman Al Saleh, the renowned UAE writer, Bahraini film-maker Khalifa Shaheen and Khalid Al Siddiq, the well-known Kuwaiti director, who all picked up Lifetime Achievement awards.

GFF festival director Masoud Amralla Al Ali said the turn out had exceeded his expectations, adding to the wonderful atmosphere created on the night. "We are honoured to have distinguished regional film professionals here with us to celebrate our second year of shining the spotlight on Gulf cinema. Their support is critical to building interest in the festival."

GFF aims to provide a platform not only to showcase the upcoming film-makers and talent, but also to exchange ideas, contacts and valuable insights into the film-making process.

Local stars turn to shine

Talent from the UAE was also strongly represented at the opening night of the Gulf Film Fastival, with Omar Gobash, Moza Al Mazrouei, Naji Al Hay, Jamal Matar, Gizlan, Abdullah Masoud, Bodour, Saif Al Ganem, Salem Al Hattawi, Ashwaq, Ali Khamis, Sultan Al Nyadi, Malik Al Khaldi, Yousuf Yaqoub, Ebrahim Salem, Ashjan, Sogha, Aisha Abdul Rahman, Mariam Sultan and Mohammad Ismail and Mustafa Abbas who each enjoyed their moment in the limelight.

Don't miss it
The Gulf Film Festival films are screened at Grand Festival Cinema at Festival City. The Festival is presented by the Dubai Culture and Arts Autority in association with Dubai Studio City. All screenings are free. For more information, visit local stars' turn to shine