WASHINGTON MAY not have the most Latin Americans in the country, but, thanks to its vast network of embassies, as well as many emigres from the Caribbean and Central America, it certainly has the broadest representation. So the 16th annual Washington Latin American Film Festival, which comes to the American Film Institute's Silver Theatre on Wednesday, speaks to one of the area's culturally richest, and often overlooked, communities.

The festival, sponsored by the AFI, the Association of Ibero-American Cultural Attaches and the Cultural Center of the Inter-American Developmental Bank, is presenting Washington or world premieres of 28 films, including festival hits, first-time efforts and box office successes in their home countries.

The festival starts Wednesday at 6:40 with Monique Gardenberg's Brazilian romantic memento "Benjamim" (also showing Sept. 24 at 1:45). Costa Rican director Esteban Ramirez will attend Wednesday night's screening at 9 of "Caribe" (and Sept. 26's show at 6:30), and Chilean producer and co-writer Matias Ovalle will present "Bad Blood," which screens Thursday at 6:40 and Sept. 23 at 5:30.

The films this year include Brazil's "Olga" and Peru's "Paper Dove," which were their countries' submissions for nomination in recent years in the Academy Awards' Foreign Language category; "Whisky," a dry Uruguayan comedy that won a critics prize at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival; and "Cazuza: Time Doesn't Stop," a biopic of Brazilian music star Cazuza. Also in the lineup is "The Curse of Father Cardona," which marks the Dominican Republic's first entry in the festival. For the second year, the festival will give prizes for best feature, director, actor and actress.

As with Ramirez, many of the filmmakers will attend the screenings. At present, 11 scheduled events feature personal appearances by producers, writers and actors, who'll discuss their work with the audience. The festival runs through Oct. 3.

The opening and closing events are by invitation only. But all other films at the Silver Theatre (8633 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring) are open to the public. A filmmakers panel, hosted by Filmfest DC founder Tony Gittens at the IDB's new Conference Center (1330 New York Ave. NW) on Sept. 26, is free. Tickets are $9.25 (weekday screenings before 6 p.m. are $6.75). They can be purchased online at www.afi.com/silver or at the AFI box office. For more information, check the AFI Web site or call 301-495-6720.

COVERING CHRISTO

Christo never met anything large and wondrous he couldn't cover with something. The National Gallery of Art will show "On the Way to 'Over the River,' " a documentary about the artist by German filmmakers Wolfram and Joerg Daniel Hissen. The 2005 film -- which observes Christo and his partner, Jeanne-Claude, as they prepare a future project, draping the Arkansas River in Colorado -- will be shown free at the East Building's auditorium Wednesday through Sept. 25 at 12:30. (The Sept. 24 show will be in the East Building Small Auditorium.) For more information, visit www.nga.gov/programs/filmart.shtm or call 202-737-4215.

ART IN MOTION

Oskar Fischinger called it "visual music" -- his avant-garde films of the 1920s through the '40s that created an abstract tango between motion picture images and music. This abstract form was made by photographing and animating objects, from cardboard cutouts to layers of melted wax, and setting the images to classical music. Born in Germany in 1900, he worked at first in the German industry before fleeing the Nazis (who called his work degenerate). He immigrated to Hollywood, where he made short films for the studios, even contributing to Walt Disney's "Fantasia."

The Goethe-Institut (812 Seventh St. NW) is exhibiting "Oskar Fischinger -- Motion Paintings" through Oct. 26, which shows Fischinger's earliest drawings and paintings, which he used as sequential components in his work. On Monday at 6:30, the Goethe will present "An Evening of Oskar Fischinger Films," followed by a lecture by curator and art critic Peter Frank. Admission is free, but reservations must be made at 202-289-1200, Ext. 175. For more information, visit www.goethe.de/washington.

-- Desson Thomson