"AMERICAN LIVES," the latest sequence in the National Archives free film series, begins a 12-week program on Friday. Different major Hollywood films will be screened every Friday at noon and every other Thursday evening at 7 (starting January 16) in the fifth-floor theater at Pennsylvania Avenue and Eighth Street NW.

The Friday noon sessions focus on America's occupations, habits, values and ways of life, while the Thursday evening presentations concern fiction films regarded as uniquely American in style, presentation and theme.

The series opens with the 100-minute Seeing Red, a 1983 film that examines the American Communist Party during the '30s and through the '50s. Next Thursday evening, Robert Altman's 1975 hit Nashville follows an introduction by Robert Kolker of the Radio- Television-Film Department of the University of Maryland. Call 523-3000 for a schedule.

Studio chiefs at Universal Pictures announced this week that the once-shelved Brazil, which was scheduled to open in Washington on February 14, will instead open next Friday at the Outer Circle.

The film's box-office success in Los Angeles and New York figured heavily in pushing up the opening date.

The American Film Institute offers some family fare this Saturday at 3 with 20th Century-Fox's Dr. Doolittle, starring Rex Harrison, Samantha Eggar, Anthony Newley and Richard Attenborough.

The AFI continues its celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Directors Guild of America on Friday evening at 6:30 with Rouben Mamoulian's 1932 feature Love Me Tonight, starring Jeanette MacDonald, Maurice Chevalier and Myrna Loy. Mamoulian is the only living member of the guild's ten founding fathers. His films will be featured throughout Januay at the AFI, and the director will introduce his 1935 production Becky Sharp on January 22 at 6:30, followed by a question- and-answer session. Call 785-4600 for a recorded schedule.

Chowringhee Lane, a 113-minute production written and directed by Aparna Sen, leads off the Smithsonian Resident Associates "Festival of Indian Film" on Monday at 7:30 in the America History Museum's Carmichael Auditorium. The seven-part series runs through February 5 and offers a look at India's newest generation of filmmakers. "Chowringhee Lane," made in 1981 and winner of the Manila International Film Festival Grand Prix, is the only feature in the series completely in English. The remaining six films will be subtitled. Full series prices are: $24 for members; $30, nonmembers; individual screenings: $4, members; $6.50, nonmembers. Call 357- 3030.

Peabody Award-winning composers John Ramo and Zenon Slawinski will be featured guests next Wednesday as Women in Film and Video presents "Original Music Composing for Film & Video." The program will discuss music's role in film and video, and provide tips on how best to incorporate music into film. Other guest speakers include Demo Chrisos, a producer, recording engineer and jingle composer; and Jim Harmon, a producer and jingle writer. The program begins at 7 at Georgetown's Rodel Studio, 1028 33rd Street NW. Cost is $3 for members; $5 for the general public. Call 942-0005.

There's still time for local filmmakers to enter "Expose Yourself," the Biograph's two- day festival scheduled for March 12-13. The 16mm or 35mm entries, which must be in by March 4, should be at least five to six minutes long and no more than 20 minutes.

First prize is $75; second, $50; and third, $25. Winners will be chosen by audience approval. For more information, call 338-0707.

Over the past dozen years, the "Expose Yourself" festivals have showcased some promising young talent. Eight years ago, John Huckert, a Northern Virginia filmmaker, presented his short version of what became known as The Passing, which led off the Auteur's Festival last May at the repertory theater. Other winners include The Langley Punks, and Marilyn Weiner who, with husband Hal, made The Image Maker, which gets its world premiere at the West End Circle on January 24.

Meanwhile, the Biograph cashed in on its recent screening of Utu during its ongoing "Down Under Festival." The western from New Zealand grossed $25,000 during its two- week run, smashing a decade-old record set by, believe it or not, a Bugs Bunny flick. Circle Theaters chief Ted Pedas was so impressed with Utu's success that he opened it at the Circle MacArthur III on Wednesday.

They packed up the third-floor Kennedy Center offices of the American Film magazine the day after Christmas and moved the remaining seven editorial staffers to New York where there are "more writers and more screenings," said Jean Firstenberg, the magazine's director.

American Film, the official magazine for the American Film Institute and its members, has a national circulation of just over 135,000 and is published ten times a year.

The move to the Big Apple was announced in mid-September and coincides with the magazine's co-publishing agreement with the AMS Foundation for the Arts, Sciences and Humanities. The foundation also publishes the U.S. and Canadian versions of M.D. Magazine.

The first issue of the jointly published magazine arrives in March, with a complete redesign, new logo and new paper stock.

SHORT SUBJECTS -- The Air and Space Museum's "Comet Tales" film series offers the 1951 sci-fi Flight to Mars Friday evening at 7:30 in the Langley Theater. It's free . . . The Library of Congress' "Shakespeare on Film and Television" series offers the 1982 BBC/Time-Life Video production of Cymbeline Friday evening at 7:30 in the Mary Pickford Theater. Also sowing is the 1913 Italian production of The Winter's Tale. Reminder: Monday begins "Hamlet Week." All programs are free; reservations should be made for the 64-seat theater. Call 287-5677 . . .

The Biograph's "Down Under Festival" continues this weekend with The Getting of Wisdom, made in 1977 and starring Susannah Fowle, Hilary Ryan and Barry Humphries, and the 1980 Austrilian smash My Brilliant Career. Both screen Friday through Monday. Then, Tuesday through Thursday, it's We of the Never Never and Phar Lap, the 1984 tale of the famous racehorse of the 1930s . . .

The America on Film series at the American History Museum this Wednesday screens It Happened One Night, Frank Capra's delightful 1934 production featuring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. Showtime is noon in Carmichael Auditorium. . .The Gaithersburg Regional Library continues its "Night Flights," an eight-week foreign film festival, on Thursday evening at 7 with two films about Africa, Balloon Safari, a 55-minute adventure in a hot air balloon drifting over Kenya; and Mzima, Portrait of a Spring, a dusk-to-dawn look at an African spring night.