"Missing" was missing last night.

The controversial film by Costa-Gavras was not presented as scheduled at American Film Institute, leaving an audience of about 50 invited guests waiting, stranded. Steve Turner, Universal Pictures' Washington branch manager, said the White House had asked for the print.

"The White House called Universal to request a print," said Turner. "I called MPAA Motion Picture Association of America . MPAA sent it over to the White House. I don't know who wants to see it. I was just told that the White House had requested a print."

Earlier this week, the State Department issued a rare statement to clarify its role in the Charles Horman case, the subject of "Missing." The film implies American complicity in the 1973 death of Horman, a young free-lance journalist executed during the Chilean coup that overthrew Salvador Allende, and also possible U.S. involvement in that coup.

"It's hard to tell what happened at this point," said Carolyn Peachey, of Campbell, Peachey Associates, the firm handling Washington-area publicity for "Missing." "The scenario went like this: When the film wasn't here we called the MPAA, where it was screened Wednesday night. No one answered so we sent someone over. The cleaning lady wouldn't let anyone in without authorization. I called someone from the MPAA. My representative got in the building and couldn't find the print. Then I got a call from the person from MPAA. They said the White House called and said the president wanted to see it this weekend at Camp David.

"It could have been just the White House projectionist," Peachey said. "But in the meantime, where is my print?"

White House acting press secretary Larry Speakes said late last night he had no information about the request or to whom the film might be shown. "What you're telling me is the first I've heard of it," he said.

Included in the audience at the pre-release screening last night, one of several held this week, were members of the Washington Interfaith Staff Council and the Coalition for a New Foreign and Military Policy, both groups active in human rights activities. Some journalists were among those in the audience, including Diana Page, a correspondent for the Argentine paper El Diaia. Page said the audience was goodnatured about the missing film. "There were people around me who were joking: 'Oh, the State Department must have got it.' "

After about a 45-minute wait in the AFI's screening room the audience was told by an AFI spokesman "it doesn't look good" for the film to arrive. Those in attendance were offered free passes to the commerical showings of the film and a few were offered seats to the sold out "Napoleon," already in progress in the Kennedy Center Opera House.