The 2008 Venice line-up looks like one of the riskiest major festival selections in recent memory.

Cross the Italian contenders, the Coen brothers, Kathryn Bigelow, Jonathan Demme and a few other media darlings off the list, and you are left with directors such as Semih Kaplanoglu from Turkey, Algerian Tariq Teguia and French duo Patrick Mario Bernard and Pierre Trividic - not exactly household names, though in fact these are potentially exciting young film-makers who have already proved their mettle with at least one well-received feature apiece.

Venice 2008 is one of the clearest illustrations to date of the identity crisis the traditional, all-inclusive film festival is facing (fan-fuelled genre fests, on the other hand, seem immune to the soul-searching and are booming).

Once, festival programming was a relatively easy matter: if new films by Truffaut, Fellini, Kurosawa, De Oliveira and other premier-league auteurs were ready, they walked straight into competition.

But it has been clear to most ordinary cinema-goers for some time that the age of the auteur is over; these days, even dedicated, high-frequency viewers generally choose films by buzz rather than by director.

Film critics, however, have taken longer to get the message, and festival programmers too are struggling to cope with the gradual drying up of what was once a steady flow of branded 'auteur' product.

What comes after auteurism is by no means obvious, and the creative directors of the Big Three European festivals - Thierry Fremaux at Cannes, Marco Mueller at Venice and Dieter Kosslick in Berlin - seem to be adopting subtly different approaches to the problem.

Fremaux's medicine is perhaps the least radical; but that is probably because his festival will always be the first port of call for name directors - and their last refuge.

The 2007 Cannes line-up was world class, the 2008 selection a shade less invigorating - but it was the latter that more elegantly defined Fremaux's approach, which might be defined as 'world auteurism', with a list that showcased recent critical darlings such as Lucrecia Martel, Jia Zhangke and Nuri Bilge Ceylan. It is his faith in the continuing existence of the director-as-author - rather than one-off stunts such as the competition programming of Shrek in his first year - that defines Fremaux's Cannes vision.

In Berlin, Dieter Kosslick is famous (and much criticised in the more serious corners of the German press) for chasing Hollywood glamour.

In a 2007 interview, he opined, apropos of that year's line-up, that 'you have to choose some splashy movies with stars and famous directors, as most of the journalists probably think Rivette (venerable French director of that year's entry Don't Touch The Axe) is a mineral water from southern France'.

But the Kosslick formula is less one-note than that suggests. Though it was by no means a vintage year, the 2007 line-up was a guide to Berlin's approach, which consists of three main strands: Hollywood fare and star vehicles (300, The Good Shepherd, The Good German, Notes On A Scandal); serious, liberal 'issue' films, often with a political slant (Goodbye Bafana, Beaufort); and anything that is on offer from established auteurs (Andre Techine's The Witnesses, Jiri Menzel's I Served The King Of England) or cult directors (Park Chan-wook's I'm A Cyborg But That's OK).

Perhaps tellingly, it was three films that fell mostly outside these categories that impressed that year - Christian Petzold's Yella, David Mackenzie's Hallam Foe and Sam Garbarski's Irina Palm.

Venice director Marco Mueller seems to have understood most clearly the auteur party is over: in his presentation of this year's Venice programme, he warned darkly that 'cinema is (almost) no longer cinema', going on to say the type of 'classic' contemporary cinema that festivals such as Venice seem designed to support has finally run out of steam: '

The idea of a 'modern' cinema that lasts 50 years is a contradiction in terms.'

In his three-and-a-half previous selections (he came in too late in 2004 for that year's line-up to be credited entirely to him), Mueller has been finding his feet. And the lucky timing of Venice - at the end of August, ready to premiere the serious US product that follows the summer blockbusters - has ensured him plenty of big, Oscar-oriented films (Brokeback Mountain, I'm Not There).

But behind the smokescreen of flashguns, it is clear Mueller is attempting to resolve the contemporary festival programmer's post-auteur dilemma by focusing on films, not directors.

The 2008 Venice selection is his most radical statement yet of this principle; the only really venerable, uncontested auteurs in the list - Abbas Kiarostami and Agnes Varda - have been shunted into out-of-competition slots, leaving a competition line-up that is remarkable both for its geographic spread and its high quotient of relative unknowns, and a Horizons sidebar that looks positively experimental. We will know by the closing ceremony on September 7 whether the gamble has paid off.