By Jeffrey Hodgson
TORONTO (Reuters) - A Jake Gyllenhaal drama about a grieving banker kicked off the Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday, which this year will include topical movies on transgender youth and gay rights among the usual Oscar hopefuls.
Now in its 40th year, the 10-day festival has become a key launching pad for Hollywood's award season, with films like "12 Years a Slave", "The King's Speech" and "Slumdog Millionaire" all gaining critical momentum at the event before going on to win the Academy Award for best picture.
The festival started with the world premiere of "Demolition", starring Gyllenhaal and Naomi Watts.
Directed by Canadian Jean-Marc Vallee, it tells the story of an investment banker whose life unravels following the death of his wife. An unlikely connection with a vending machine company employee, played by Watts, helps him rebuild.
Vallee previously won praise for "Dallas Buyers Club" and "Wild". Gyllenhaal said, to give the movie a realistic feel, the director allowed him to tear apart a house during one of his character's key scenes.
"It was incredibly cathartic. You feel like a kid," he told Reuters Television in a red carpet interview ahead of the premiere.
Thursday also saw the world premiere of Michael Moore's "Where to Invade Next", in which the "Fahrenheit 9/11" director looks at what former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower described as the military–industrial complex.
"It’s what happened to the United States by not listening to Dwight Eisenhower, by not listening to his warning," Moore said.
The festival, which runs from Sept. 10 to 20, will go on to screen nearly 300 feature films from more than 70 countries.
Notable themes this year include the political and legal battles fought for gay rights, the subject of two movies in the festival's high-profile gala program.
Roland Emmerich, best known for Hollywood blockbusters like "The Day After Tomorrow", directs "Stonewall", a drama about the 1969 New York riots which became a landmark event in North America's gay rights movement.
"Freeheld" stars Ellen Page and Julianne Moore, fresh off winning an Oscar for last year's "Still Alice", in the true story Laurel Hester. Dying of cancer, the New Jersey police officer fought a legal battle to pass her pension benefits on to her same-sex partner.
The festival will also screen the world premiere of "About Ray", which stars Elle Fanning as a teenager whose decision to transition from female to male triggers family turmoil.
(With additional reporting by Robert Mezan and Sharon Reich; Editing by Christian Plumb)