"Women Make Movies IV," the fourth annual festival sponsored by the Washington chapter of Women in Film and Video, opens tonight at the Kennedy Center with a gala reception and the Washington premiere of Dina and Marisa Silver's "Old Enough."

The festival, consisting of panel discussions and more than 35 films made by women, is the most extensive of its kind. It will continue at the American Film Institute Theater through March 17.

"When people hear the term 'women's film festival,' they run screaming out of the room, thinking it's going to be all women hating men and women burning bras," said A.C. Warden, the festival's director. "But we emphasized the entertainment aspect."

"We set out to find the best films that have been made by women, without any litmus test as to their specific message," said chairman Meredith Burch. "Our purpose is to provide recognition, rather than any ideological message."

Besides "Old Enough," the series will include "Streetwise," nominated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences this year for Best Documentary; "Camila," the Argentine drama nominated for Best Foreign Language Film; Lois Weber's 1921 film "The Blot," with live musical accompaniment; and the world premiere of Susan Seidelman's "Desperately Seeking Susan," starring Rosanna Arquette, Aidan Quinn and Madonna.

A panel on production design will include Patrizia von Brandenstein ("Amadeus"); among the panelists on screenwriting will be Diane Thomas ("Romancing the Stone"), Patricia Resnick ("9 to 5"), Valerie Curtin ("Best Friends") and television writers Georgia Jeffries ("Cagney and Lacey") and Ann Beatts (formerly of "Saturday Night Live"). Many of the filmmakers, including Seidelman and the Silvers, will appear at the showing of their films.

The Washington chapter of Women in Film and Video was founded in 1979 to foster the careers of area women in the industry. There are chapters in several American cities, as well as overseas.

The festival comes at a time when women are gaining prominence in the male-dominated film industry, but remain vastly outnumbered. There are about a half-dozen women directors working regularly in Hollywood today, and a smattering of powerful producers and studio executives. Sherry Lansing had a brief tenure at 20th Century-Fox, but today there is no woman studio chief.

"The festival serves the purpose of affording women filmmakers industry recognition, role models, and support," Burch said. "Most women filmmakers are independents, and they share the problems that all independents have, which is getting their films seen."

Most of the films don't treat "women's issues": Eleanor Gaver's "Hearts and Diamonds," for example, has been called a "woman's 'Diner' "; there are movies about dance and love and family strife. Asked whether the films have any thematic or stylistic unity, Warden replied, "I would hesitate to say that there's a woman's esthetic. But because of our experience in society, we have a special kind of take-on-the-world it's hard to put your finger on."

Ticket information is available at the "Women in Film" office (293-5022) or the AFI box office.