TORONTO (Reuters) - Action movie "Looper" with Joseph Gordon-Levitt opens the Toronto film festival on Thursday, but "Twilight" star Kristen Stewart is expected to attract the biggest buzz on the red carpet in a star-studded festival scattered with Oscar hopefuls.
Anticipation was high for one of the world's premier film festivals that coming off Venice marks the beginning of Hollywood's awards season. Filmmakers see it as crucial launching pad and Toronto has previously propelled such films as "The King's Speech" to go on to success at the Academy Awards.
Top stars due to appear include Ben Affleck, Selena Gomez, Halle Berry, Tom Hanks and rapper-turned reggae wannabe Snoop Dogg, now known as Snoop Lion. Kristen Stewart was due to hit the red carpet Thursday in her first appearance since admitting to cheating on "Twilight" co-star Robert Pattinson.
At the same time, "Looper," a sci-fi time travel thriller directed by Rian Johnson and featuring Gordon Levitt and Bruce Willis in a futuristic story about a time-traveling assassin assigned to kill his future self, will officially kick off the 11-day festival that will screen more than 280 films.
The US-China co-production is not one of the films being keenly watched by Oscar observers, but was chosen as the opening film due to its star power and possible broad entertainment appeal, said festival organizers.
Johnson told reporters Thursday he hoped the film's combination of action and emotional pull would eventually draw viewers from Canada to China with a model "more like the first 'Terminator', just in terms of time travel setting up a situation."
Asked if there were concerns about violence in "Looper" and the wider movie world coming off the Colorado movie house massacre where during a screening of "The Dark Knight Rises" in July a gunman killed 12 people, Willis defended violence in the movies as a part of their integral, emotional pull.
"Violence is one of the hard, bad things that exist in the world, it's not just in films, it exists anywhere," he said. "And to pick one thing out and say 'Well, you shouldn't have violence in films or you shouldn't make violence a part of a film, would be like taking the emotion out of it."
The movie's themes also prompted questions for the two stars about time travel and what they might change in the past. Gordon-Levitt he would like to see the future -- "I consider myself an optimist" - while Willis reflected: "I would remind myself every couple of minutes not to take myself seriously."
By Friday, the festival will quickly turn toward some of the more anticipated films already gaining Oscar buzz, including Friday's premiere of Ben Affleck's "Argo," based on the story of how the CIA smuggled six Americans under the cover of a Hollywood production during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis.
Also competing for critics and audience attention will be Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master," David O. Russell's "Silver Linings Playbook" and "Cloud Atlas", an adaptation of the best-selling novel directed by Tom Tykwer and "Matrix" co-directors Andy and Lana Wachowski and starring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry.
Optimism by sellers and buyers added to the festival's excitement, with its reputation as a hot marketplace for its ability to grab media attention and attract quality productions.
Summing up why Toronto has quickly risen from its launch in 1976 to become one of the world's most desirable film destinations, Gordon-Levitt noted its reputation for low-key serious moviegoers.
"This is a festival that is full of cinephiles," he said. "It doesn't have the air of glitz and glamour and I really like that about it, it's more about the films."
Reporting By Christine Kearney; Editing by M.D. Golan