"It is possible for a human being alone, often alone, to say no to death," comments Elie Wiesel in the film "The Courage to Care." Robert Gardner, the film's producer and director, was nominated for an Oscar last Wednesday in the documentary short subject category. Gardner, who lives on Crimson King Farm in Purcellville, Va., west of Leesburg, made the moving film for the Washington-based Holocaust Memorial Council while working for the United Way of America.

"Courage," providing an almost heartening counterpoint to Claude Lanzmann's "Shoah," centers on interviews with five Europeans -- gentiles who sheltered Jews, and Jews who encountered gentiles courageous enough to help them escape the Nazi terror. The five were chosen from a group of people attending a Holocaust Memorial Council conference in September 1984 focusing on the rescuers of the Jewish people. Work began on the film after Sister Carol Rittner, an adjunct professor at Mercy College in Detroit and coproducer of the film, decided that she wanted a video transcript of the conference.

"These people were very, very ordinary, but when they were tested under the most terrible, vicious of circumstances they went ahead and saved other people's lives," said Gardner. All five, two formerly from Poland, two from France and one from the Netherlands, were filmed on four different sets at the United Way. Gardner, Rittner and the crew then flew to Europe, where for three weeks they went to the old homes and hiding places, ferreting out documents, photographs and verification from those still living in the areas.

"Courage" was not filmed in the usual cinema ve'rite' style, Gardner points out. "The approach to the show as a documentary was very different . . . The people were treated with care, made up, carefully lit. The images were handled with a production photography value."

Gardner traveled to Poland shortly after "Shoah" opened in Paris. "Shoah" paints a picture of Polish complicity in the Nazi Holocaust. The reaction that "Shoah's" opening caused in Poland made filming "Courage" segments there more difficult, Gardner said. "The Poles were really angry. We had to go through all kinds of delicate talks with the Polish government."

Rittner is editing a book, to be published in September by New York University Press, based on the original video interviews. National Gallery Passes

It is no longer possible to obtain reservations for the National Gallery of Art's popular headliners, the "Treasure Houses of Britain" and Impressionism exhibits. The gallery had been taking written and phone requests for reservations, but those spaces have been filled through the close of the shows. Fear not. Those who wish to view the exhibits can still do so by obtaining passes in person at the gallery. "The best time to go is during the week," said Ellen Stanley, a gallery information specialist. "The weekends have been the times when they run out of passes." Passes for the Impressionism show -- which is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from noon to 9 p.m. Sunday -- can be obtained on the main floor of the gallery's West Building. Passes for "Treasure Houses" -- open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from noon to 9 p.m. Sunday -- can be obtained on the ground floor of the gallery's East Building. Hearts and the Arts

"Hot-blooded music, heart-break dancing, hearty tidbits and a heartless cash bar" will heat up the Omni Georgetown Hotel, 2121 P St. NW, when the New Art Examiner, the nonprofit visual arts magazine, throws a benefit for its D.C. Writers Fund Thursday. About 180 artists are donating artistic valentines to be sold at silent auction during the benefit. The valentines are on display starting today at the Omni Georgetown. For ticket information, call 483-8208 . . . At the National Portrait Gallery, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., singer Kathryn Armour and pianist Terrence Woollen will serenade lovers with a potpourri of romantic music ranging from Cole Porter and Harold Arlen to Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein. Performances are free, but reservations are suggested. Call 357-2729 for reservations . . . Voices in the Glen, a local storytelling group, will spin Valentine's Day tales when they present "How Do I Love Thee" at the Cleveland Park Club, 3433 33rd Place NW, Friday at 8:30 p.m. Admission is $5. Call 362-7881 or 554-9522 for information and reservations. Art Appreciation Class

Do you pause apprehensively before entering a museum or gallery, suffering from an art-appreciation anxiety attack? First Class Inc. is offering a two-session seminar, "Making the Most of Your Gallery or Museum Visit," beginning tomorrow. Call 797-5102 for reservations.