The Hirshhorn Museum resumes free film programs this week with a premiere showing Thursday at 8:30 of NAPOLEON CONQUERS AMERICA, a 52-minute documentary about the reconstruction and reissue of Abel Gance's 1927 epic two years ago. The interview subjects include the Coppolas, movie historian Kevin Brownlow and distributor Robert Harris.

A new Arlington group, "Screenplays in Progress," will offer a free VIDEO WORKSHOP Monday, January 24, from 7 to 9:30 at the Metrocable studio, 2707 Wilson Boulevard. Perhaps "Teleplays in Progress" would be a more appropriate handle, since the members are interested in polishing and improvising scripts intended for eventual production on cable television. At any rate, the group remains open to interested prospective performers and crew members. Contact Alan Magill at 524-1549 to make reservations for the workshop program.

The Smithsonian's coming JOHN BARRYMORE series will be preceded by a "centennial tribute" evening on Tuesday, January 25, at Langley Theater in the National Air and Space Museum. The actor's widow, Mrs. Elaine Barrymore, will join Spencer Gerger, the author of a recent biography, and Douglas Edwards, a program coordinator of exhibits and special events for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, in a panel discussion devoted to Barrymore's career. The 8 p.m. program will also include a showing of the 1933 "Reunion in Vienna," plus excerpts from other Barrymore vehicles. Tickets are $12 for members and $15 for non-members. A pair of new film and television courses are scheduled to begin at the end of the month. The Smithsonian Resident Associates are collaborating with the Washington Film Council and National Association of Government Communicators on an eight-week program titled NEW DESIGNS IN AUDIO-VISUAL PRODUCTION TO CUT COSTS, covering a wide range of techniques and technologies. The first session, January 27 at 8, conducted by Allan Stanley of Dolphin Productions in New York, will deal with computer-generated animation. Call 357-3030 for information on fees for the series or individual sessions, as well as the classroom site.

John Simmons resumes his popular media courses, FILM AND TELEVISION PRODUCTION and FILM & TV FINANCING, the same week at the offices of Media Seminars International, 1922 I Street NW. Each course meets for six weeks. Simmons plans two sessions of "Film and Television Production," starting January 27 and February 1. "Financing" will meet for six Wednesdays beginning January 26. Registrants should contact Simmons at 293-1122 or 534-8487. They may also want to inquire about a follow-up course to the production class called TELEVISION PRODUCER FELLOWSHIP, which will meet for three evenings a week later this winter and center on the creation and production of a half-hour TV program on 3/4-inch color videotape.

The Baltimore Film Forum welcomes entries for the INDEPENDENT FILMMAKERS' COMPETITION, one of the annual events of the Baltimore International Film Festival. Though the festival doesn't open until April, applications for the Independents division are due by February 2. They should be 16mm productions of 40 minutes or less, completed within the past two years. There are competitions with cash awards in four categories: documentary, experimental, dramatic and animation. Call 301/685-4170 for further information.

What a difference a year makes: The Hollywood Reporter recently announced that Wall Street entertainment analysts were anticipating a record year for MCA and continued prosperity in 1983, fundamentally underwritten by the cash flowing into its film-distribution subsidiary, Universal, from the success of "E.T." At the same time last year, the same analysts foresaw only bleak months ahead for the corporation. The only movies-in-progress considered commercially promising were "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" and "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid." The corporate pet among these prognosticators at the start of 1982 was WARNER, now reduced to doghouse status by the dubious performance of its Atari division. For what it's worth, the Warner release schedule looks fairly promising for the last half of 1983: "Superman III," the Sean Connery/James Bond adventure "Never Say Never Again," the Burt Reynolds action comedy "Stand On It," the Steve Martin farce "The Man With Two Brains," "National Lampoon's Summer Vacation," "The Right Stuff," "Once Upon a Time in America" and "Greystoke."

The summer success of "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" has encouraged Universal to invest in separate 1983 vehicles built around young performers from that film: Sean Penn, a comic sensation as the class freak, gets his first starring opportunity in BAD BOYS, scheduled for release next spring, while Phoebe Cates, one of the principal coeds, turns up next summer as the star of PRIVATE SCHOOL. No word on a new project for their director, Amy Heckerling, but Martha Coolidge, who made a promising start several years ago on the autobiographical fragment "Not a Pretty Picture," has finally completed a new feature on the rejuvenated comic theme of adolescent fumblings and gropings, VALLEY GIRL.

The roles of Salieri and Mozart in Milos Forman's movie version of Peter Shaffer's AMADEUS have been awarded to F. Murray Abraham and Thomas Hulce, respectively. Constant moviegoers should recall Abraham, still better known as a theater actor, as the scene-stealing Abbie Hoffman type in "The Big Fix." Hulce was the principal ingenuous pledge in "National Lampoon's Animal House."