The Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival has taken on a more populist stance this year, expanding its reach to open air theatres (Lonas Culturales) in the impoverished suburban areas and even in the city's famous hilltop slums, known as favelas.

Among the festival highlights was a Mickey Mouse tribute held at one of Rio's more prominent favelas, Pavao Pavaozinho, which boasts one of the coastal city's most spectacular views. The tribute included the screening of nine rare Mickey Mouse shorts dating back from the early 1930s and the appearance of Mickey Mouse himself. The children raised a ruckus as they took turns posing with the Mouse.

Other screenings at the Unicef and Globo TV sponsored sports and cultural Children in Hope centre at Pavao included the second biggest blockbuster in Brazil of late (after Hector Babenco's prison drama Carandiru), the teen-targeted Lisbela, The Prisoner by Guel Arraes. Last year's festival winner, Murilo Salles' Seja O Que Deus Quiser, is scheduled to screen at the Lonas Culturales.

Now at its halfway point, the 15-day festival (Sept 25 to Oct 9) boasts a 29% increase in admissions over the same period last year.

Among the Brazilian films, the buzz is high for hip hop documentary Living Rap In Rio (Fala Tu) by Guilherme Coelho. Popular competing features include Eliane Caffe's Storytellers (Narradores De Jave), Paolo Morelli's Speaker Phone (Viva Voz) and Monique Gardenberg's Benjamin.

Among the international titles, Sofia Coppola's Lost In Translation, which opened the festival, has raked in the highest admissions. Other top drawers include Eytan Fox's Yossi Ve Jagger, Tomas Vinterberg's It's All About Love, Peter Mullans's The Magdalene Sisters and Samira Makhmalbaf's At Five In the Afternoon.

Musicals took over the free Copacabana beach screenings this year with titles ranging from such classics as The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady and Fame. More recent musicals included The Lion King, Moulin Rouge and Chicago. Subtitles in English have encouraged the crowds to sing along.