The 72nd Venice film kicks off on 2 September with a gala screening of Baltasar Kormakur's Everest, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Keira Knightley, and based on the 1996 climbers' disaster on the world's highest mountain.

In competition are 21 films, including Tom Hooper's The Danish Girl starring Academy Award-winner Eddie Redmayne as one of the first known people to undergo a sex change operation, and performance artist Laurie Anderson's Heart of a Dog. Drake Doremus' Equals, a romantic science fiction movie starring Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult, also competes as does Beasts of No Nation, a war drama with Idris Elba.

Italian director Luca Guadagnino comes to the festival with A Bigger Splash starring Tilda Swinton, Dakota Johnson and Ralph Fiennes, while Charlie Kaufman, writer of the 1999 cult fantasy-comedy Being John Malkovich, brings stop-motion movie Anomalisa.

Also in competition are Argentine director Pablo Trapero's El Clan, Chinese director Zhao Liang's Behemoth, Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski's 11 minut, and Looking for Grace from Australia's Sue Brooks.

Black Mass, starring Johnny Depp as criminal turned FBI informant Whitey Bulger, will screen in the out-of-competition line-up. The Variety film critic Jay Weissberg believes there is a more diverse array of films on offer this year than there has been in the past.

Weissberg said: "There's a little bit of everything which gives a broader perspective on what cinema is about at this moment. So, you've got some political films, you'll have a few light-hearted films from France. You've got social dramas, family dramas. There's even a sci-fi film, so there's a much broader range and a much more diverse line-up than in the past."

Weissberg praised Redmayne for tackling a difficult role of Lili Elbe, one of the first known recipients of sexual reassignment surgery. "Eddie Redmayne is in a film called The Danish Girl which is a film about a transgender romance based on a true story, so it's nice he did go walking around the Lido here in Venice and seeing his face plastered everywhere.

"That gaze of his. Lipstick, mascara, all of that sort of thing – it's unexpected in a way of course but it's a theme that's certainly been in the news a lot the last year with Caitlyn Jenner and all of the other people who have paved the way. This in a way is a precursor to that. It's saying: "Look we have antecedents before that who are every bit, if not, more interesting.'"

Weissberg also spoke on one of the biggest stars to attend the event, Johnny Depp. "Well, first, remember Black Mass is out of competition, it's not in competition. So, it's got a little less weight behind it but also more popularity. In terms of Depp, obviously he's made some mediocre films in the last few years, I would never say that's he's become a joke because I don't think he has. He's become himself in the sense that he's an iconic figure and it almost doesn't matter what he's in at this point.

"With this film hopefully it's going to be a film that makes people remember what a terrific actor he is and something that's out of the norm for him – it's not a Tim Burton role or one of those twee roles, tongue-in-cheek or camp roles. It's a much more serious role in which he's playing a gangster so it's going to be an interesting shift for him and I think audiences to accept him in that role."

Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron, known for Gravity, will head the jury, which includes Hollywood actresses Elizabeth Banks and Diane Kruger. The 72nd Venice film festival runs 2-12 September.