07/24/2012 12:18 EDT | Updated 09/23/2012 05:12 EDT

TIFF taps sci-fi thriller Looper as opening film

Looper, the sci-fi action thriller from U.S. director Rian Johnson, will open the Toronto International Film Festival in September, organizers announced today.

The anticipated film, which was teased for fans at Comic-Con, reteams Johnson with actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the increasingly prominent young actor who starred in his ambitious debut feature, the teen noir Brick. The cast of the futuristic tale also includes Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt.

Several years ago, festival organizers changed their policy of only selecting Canadian films to open the festival, and for the past three editions, international titles landed the first-night slot. The choice of Looper sets "a very different" and "a very important" tone for this year's event, TIFF chief executive Piers Handling told media Tuesday morning.

"It’s a genre film. It’s a very smart genre film. It’s a film that deals with cinema. It mixes a couple of genres — science fiction and the gangster movie. It’s a young filmmaker, who I think is a filmmaker for us to watch," he said of Johnson, who he noted brought both Brick and his sophomore effort, the conman caper film The Brothers Bloom, to past editions of TIFF.

For opening night, "you want a film that actually commands the screen, is entertaining, that people really, really enjoy and [that] gets their heads into the rest of the festival," Handling added.

Wide-ranging international titles unveiled

Handling and TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey unveiled on Tuesday a long list of more than 60 star-studded North American and international films that will screen at this fall's event, including new titles by top filmmakers such as David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook), Mira Nair (The Reluctant Fundamentalist), Costa-Gavras (Capital), Robert Redford (The Company You Keep), Laurent Cantat (Foxfire), Chen Kaige (Caught in the Web) and Mike Newell (Great Expectations).

One of Canada's highest-profile offerings is Deepa Mehta's eagerly awaited adaptation of Salman Rushdie's novel Midnight's Children, which includes Canadian actors Anita Majumdar and Zaib Shaikh in its international cast.

"[In] Midnight's Children, a book that was famously seen as impossible to adapt, [Mehta]'s found a way into the heart of the book," Bailey told CBC News shortly after the press event.

"She makes you step up your game," Majumdar said of working with the award-winning, Toronto-based filmmaker, best known for her Elements trilogy: Fire, Earth and Water.

Though "the book is so epic," thoughout the filming process, both Mehta and Rushdie reminded the cast to focus on their respective roles, Shaikh recalled. "The biggest thing they always talked about was the story, [being] in the moment of what we're dealing with."

Buzz-worthy films from Affleck, Whedon, Wright

Other notable TIFF entries include The Avengers and Buffy The Vampire Slayer director Joss Whedon's quickly filmed take on Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, Anna Karenina, Joe Wright and Keira Knightley's third collaboration, Ben Affleck's 1970s-set CIA thriller Argo and To The Wonder, the latest from Terrence Malick (also starring Affleck).

Bailey noted that by choosing Looper, the intention was "to show that the opening night's film can be anything that we want it to be as long as it is engaging and pleasing for the audience. I think the audience is going to love watching the film on this kind of scale, this kind of fun value to it."

Still, he underlined that the action-packed and genre-heavy trailers shown to media in Toronto on Tuesday — including Affleck's Argo, high-gloss Chinese period film Dangerous Liaisons, gritty police story End of Watch and the "steampunk kung fu throwdown" Tai Chi O — are just a sample of what the festival will offer.

"Yes, it looked like there were a lot of genre films, a lot of action. That's not really reflective of the entire festival — those were just some of the more jazzy, exciting trailers. We still have a very good range of films," Bailey added, noting that Malick "is hardly an action film director."

Nadda's followup to Cairo Time

Along with Mehta, another Canadian filmmaker on the initial sched is Ruba Nadda with Inescapable, the followup to her award-winning Cairo Time and a thriller about a Syrian expat's desperate search for his missing journalist daughter in the Middle East.

"These are our galas and special presentations, so they are typically our biggest red carpet films — featuring some of the biggest stars in the world, but not just Hollywood stars. It’s a very diverse mix of galas in particular this year, from more than six countries" including Denmark, China, Japan and Italy, Bailey told reporters.

"Usually when a film premieres, [the stars] attend, but we don’t announce that until later in August," he added.

"I think you can expect most of the people on this list to want to be here in Toronto," Handing quipped immediately afterward.

The announcement also included a trio of documentaries from American filmmakers: the Liz Garbus production Love, Marilyn; Maiken Baird's Venus & Serena, about the sibling tennis stars; and Free Angela & All Political Prisoners, Shola Lynch's film about activist and former Black Panther Angela Davis.

A longer nonfiction slate is forthcoming later this summer, along with film titles from the Canadian, Midnight Madness, City to City and other lineups.

TIFF 2012 runs Sept. 6-16.