Venice kickedoff last nightwith the galapremiereof the Coen Brothers' Burn After Reading.

George Clooney and Brad Bitt brought some A-list star power to the red carpet for the opening. To see Screen's review of the film click here.

More big names are expected to arrive forthe traditionally glitzy opening weekend, which will include Guillermo Arriaga's The Burning Plain, starring Charlize Theron and Kim Bassinger.

Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki will be in Venice with Ponyo On The Cliff and will make a rare personal appearance Sunday.

While visitorswere looking forward to a very wide-ranging selection of world premiere titles (Click here for buzz films), therewas, however,much interest in the films that didn't make it to the programme.

They include Spike Lee's Miracle at St. Anna which is premiering instead inToronto and Michael Winterbottom's Italy-set Genova.

There has also been a perception that the Venice selection is light on English-language features this year.

But at an opening-day press conference, artistic director Marco Mueller dismissed suggestions that the festival was anything less than healthy.

'For the second time, and it's a record for the festival, we have five American films in competition,' Mueller said.

Nonetheless,Venice inevitablyis under scrutiny in an increasingly competitive festival environment.

Its Achilles heel has always been the cost of visiting, now accentuated in the case of the US business by the unfavourable dollar-Euro exhange.

One PR professional told ScreenDaily: 'Nobody thinks the companies won't go back to Venice in other years, but this year our bread and butter clients just aren't going,' he said. 'The economy is not great and we can get [the launches] done elsewhere.'

The prestige of Venice, however, will always win through, others suggest.

'It isn't that Cannes is so inexpensive,' Rai Cinema chief Caterina D'Amico said. 'Film-makers dream of going to Venice.'

Rai Cinema, which co-financed Miracle At St. Annais incompetition in Venice with Marco Bechis' Amazon-set Birdwatchers and Ferzan Ozpetek's A Perfect Day.

Venice believes it has the long-term answer to critics with long-awaited construction of a new Cinema Palazzo in a $100m investment in infrastructure.

Those plans form an important backdrop to this year's event. Click here for more.

The Venice Film Festival runs until September 6.