PEOPLE who program film festivals, like lawyers, are responsible first to their clients and then, ultimately, to audiences and critics. Everybody is on the lookout for that special film, that "Diva" or "Das Boot," to establish his festival as the one to watch. So, too, were we in preparing for "Windows: The Second European Community Film Festival," at the Kennedy Center through next Tuesday. How and where were these films selected--and why?

The European Community Delegation here initiated a festival in 1980, and two representatives of the American Film Institute toured Europe scouting films. In early 1981, 14 films representing the 10 member countries played to packed houses in the AFI theater. This year the festival has grown to 26 films.

We decided to meet in Berlin for the annual festival. One of the premiere film gatherings in the world, the Berlin International Film Festival offers more than 600 films in about two weeks.

Eddie was in Berlin under the auspices of the EC and the AFI, so he had nothing to do but look at movies--often seven or eight a day. Karen was on the market staff of the festival, which gave her constant access not only to the films, but also to the filmmakers and distributors: lots of parties, lots of quick coffees, lots of impromptu meetings. Between the two of us, we saw nearly 150 films.

Once back in the States, we examined our spoils. In the midst of the razzle-dazzle, we had done business with enough people to snare about 20 very good films, enough of a start to encourage us that we could get Washingtonians to read subtitles for three weeks. (Actually, not all the films are subtitled, but you get the idea.)

Two immediate problems were magnificently solved: Ireland and Greece. Too often simply beautiful locations for films from other lands, each country yielded a film of exciting indigenous creativity. Not only that, but the two films, "Traveller" and "A Foolish Love," were mature works on modern problems, which were sure to have their appeal.

We looked not only for big films with big stars, but also renewed our efforts to obtain films like Theodoros Angelopoulos' "Megalexandros " a four-hour epic that won Venice's Golden Lion in 1980. An early confirmation of this cinematic Holy Grail gave us the prestige we needed to pursue other big films.

We secured three major French films, which raised our overall level of expectation. A French producer liked our ideas, and a French director bombarded us with enthusiastic letters and sent her film two months early. A trip to Hollywood seemed necessary to talk to a major distributor--not only did he give us the film we wanted, but he turned out to be 100 percent in favor of the festival and offered us yet another film, a major French-Italian coproduction.

We accepted with glee, but were immediately faced with another issue: international coproduction. Notorious for being vehicles for too many stars and not enough ability, we needed to balance our presentation with this necessary evil. In Ettore Scola's "That Night At Varennes" and Yves Boisset's "The Purple Taxi," we found one great coproduction and one adventurous, truly strange mixture of talent and location.

During this tactical maneuvering for films, the structure of the festival took shape. The inheritor of the original festival idea, European Community's liaison Myriam Norris, worked with AFI theater operations director Ray Barry to secure funding. The suspense built to a happy denouement when R. J. Reynolds Industries agreed to become the sole festival patron.

A similar trust came from the United States Information Agency, whose director, Charles Z. Wick, agreed to cohost the opening night reception with the institute's direction, Jean Firstenberg, and J. Paul Sticht, chairman and chief executive officer of R.J. Reynolds Industries.

"Tell me," more than one curious film buff asked us as we stood at the opening-night reception, "were there any films you really, really wanted but just couldn't get?" The answer, of course, is "yes," but as any programmer will tell you, it is highly impolitic to rattle off films that slipped from our grasp for various reasons.

Each film in the festival is a Washington premiere, and many are being shown for the first time in the United States. Without the support and commitment of the organizations we've talked about, it could not have been done.