Where have the Dutch films gone' With 44 world premieres, the 36th International Film Festival Rotterdam is showcasing a wealth of new work, but the line-up is notably light on local movies.

Speaking today to ScreenDaily.com, festival director Sandra Den Hamer has bemoaned the absence of strong Dutch features available to be programmed.

'We didn't have one feature film in competition,' Den Hamer observed. 'I would have loved to have a Dutch film in competition, but it wasn't there.'

She had hoped to programme Nanouk Leopold's third feature Wolfsbergen, but the film wasn't ready in time and will instead premiere next month in Berlin's Forum.

Asked how the local industry has responded to its virtual invisibility in the countrty's most prestigious festival, Den Hamer responded: 'they feel bad but I feel bad as well.'

Despite the absence of Dutch titles, Den Hamer is striking an upbeat note about this year's festival, which started last night with the world premiere of Esteban Sapir's The Aerial.

The festival director pointed to several striking new initiatives. For example, Rotterdam is pioneering new methods of digital distribution. 90% of the festival's 528 titles is available to buyers and accredited guests to watch in the festival digital video library. Meanwhile, certain festival titles are available to the public to watch for free in a 'digital lounge' in the Hilton Hotel. It's even possible for a small group of subscribers to watch festival fare at home.

The long-term aim is for the festival to use digital platforms to distribute titles. 'I don't think there will be a growth in theatrical distribution of art cinema. You have to find new ways to show these films,' Den Hamer said. 'If those films are not being sold, they are still digitally stored...there are a lot of possibilities to open your archives. For me, it is important that you make the films of independent cinema accessible. You can do it through a festival but you can also do it throughout the year.'

Notable figures in attendance this year include French actress Bulle Ogier and US actor Jeremy Davies (in town for the screening of Werner Herzog's Rescue Dawn.) However, Den Hamer again emphasised that the festival is filmmaker-led. ' Rotterdam is not about stars,' she said. 'Perhaps we are a little against what people expect. They expect stars. Well, they don't get them here.'

The festival's motto is: 'discover filmmakers before they are famous.' Its aim, Den Hamer said, is to showcase 'young talent, discoveries, films from other cultures.'

The festival closes with a screening of The Prestige by Christopher Nolan, whose debut feature Following screened in the Tiger Competition.