Competing forattention in Rio seems impossible in presidential election week. Streets aredraped with banners for leftist favourite Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva -known as simply as Lula - and if that wasn't distraction enough, druglords ordered an unofficial curfew on Monday, possibly as a sabre-rattlingexercise ahead of Sunday's voting.

And yet, in themidst of all this election fever, Brazil's biggest film festival isticking along surprisingly successfully. Having opening last week to sell-outscreenings of Pedro Almodovar's Talk To Her, the Rio International Film Festivalpredicts that it will beat last year's sales by 30%, topping 200,000admissions.

In fact, in acountry where voting is obligatory - the price of apathy can be losing awork permit - festival chief Ilda Santiago says most of the screenings onelection day Sunday are already sold out.

"The city is covered in electionsigns so we developed different marketing concepts, different images,"Santiago told ScreenDaily. "We put signs for the festival higher up. If the electionbanners are at street level, we are above them. We put signs at bus-stops, atwhat we call clear channels, out in the street. There is a gigantic panel infront of the shopping centre."

The fizz wastaken out of festival frivolities on Monday, when the Coca Cola Lite-sponsoredparty at the festival's Copacabana beach tent coincided with the day thatdrug lords ordered the upmarket area's businesses to close. The softdrinks giant decided to comply, postponing the party until Friday.

"Everyone came dressed up thenines, and then there was no party," said Bala Perdida's RamsayRoss.

Thepostponement was an embarrassment to organisers concerned about thecity's image. But, as Santiago pointed out: "Nothing actuallyhappened. It's back to normal today."

While somefestival staff-members are nervous about overseas guests heading off on theirown, most visitors are relaxed. "Everyone was telling me it was going tobe bad because of the economy, but it's actually better than when I camebefore," said Robert Burke, Lakeshore International'svice-president of worldwide marketing.

Amongst thehottest tickets in town are the Almodovar and two films which will be supportedby their directors - Costa-Gavras' Amen and Roman Polanski's The Pianist, which closes the event. Also sold outare controversial September 11 film 11'09"01, David Cronenberg's Spider, Tom Tykwer's Heaven and South Korean director JeongJae-Jung's Take Care Of My Cat.

Local filmssparking interest include Renato Falcao's Margarette's Feast, a story about a man's obsession oflaying on a great birthday party for his wife, which is told with no dialogueand uses silent movie tricks to notable effect. Cannes title Madame Sata is generating press interest, as are twodocumentaries: Edificio Master, based on the lives of the inhabitants of one Rio's most infamoushigh rises, and Bus 174,about the hijacking of a bus in 2000 that made Rio.grind to a halt.

The festival iscurrently finalising a five-year extension of its lucrative sponsorship dealwith state-backed petrol distribution company BR. At the exchange rates of theday, the original deal was worth around $1.8m, although only $1m bytoday's rates.

"The election should not changeanything as far as the festival is concerned," Santiago said. "BRis a company that has a marketing strategy of developing Braziliancinema."