ONE OF THE MOST transformative powers of film is its ability to introduce viewers to people and worlds they would otherwise never have a chance to encounter. That power will be explored and no doubt experienced many times in the course of the Common Ground Film Festival, which unspools at Visions Cinema-Bistro-Lounge on Friday with an opening-night screening of "Questioning Faith," Macky Alston's first-person documentary about his struggle with doubt when a fellow seminary student dies of AIDS. More than 20 films, all having to do the world's most intractable conflicts, and their participants' search for commonalities within them, will be shown during the festival. Among them: "Arab and Jew: Return to the Promised Land," a documentary by Baltimore filmmaker Robert Gardner; "Blacks and Jews," the acclaimed 1997 film about historical alliances and disputes between those two groups; and "Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero," Helen Whitney's deeply moving exploration of the role of spirituality in response to the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Conversations with the filmmakers will follow most screenings.
-- Ann Hornaday
At Visions Cinema-Bistro-Lounge, 1927 Florida Ave. NW, Friday through Nov. 7. "Questioning Faith" will be shown Friday at 7 and 9:30 p.m. $10. For more showtimes and ticket prices, call 202-667-0090 or visit www.visionsdc.com
DON'T GO TO THE BLACK CAT on Thursday if you can't handle the truth. At least the truth according to the Black Heart Procession, a San Diego band that takes an almost morbidly dim view of love and seems hellbent to explore the outer limits of romantic agony. On its fourth album, "Amore del Tropico," it conjures moods and exquisite melodies for the crushed with a sound gathered from sources as varied as Joy Division and -- no fooling -- Dionne Warwick. Lead singer Paulo Zappoli has a way of locating the drama and beauty of genuine despair, and the quartet has a sound as rich as the bipolar emotions it seems to savor. Expect one beautiful bummer.
-- David Segal
At the Black Cat, 1811 14th St. NW. Friday at 9:30 p.m. $12. Call 202-667-7960 or visit www.blackcatdc.com
MEMBERS OF THE WASHINGTON PROJECT for the Arts\Corcoran are showing off their talent over the next month, starting today with a fair featuring 40 of 125 artists who will open their studios to the public during November. Elizabeth Whiteley uses rulers and mathematical equations to create geometric images in her paintings and drawings at her Van Ness studio. "When I tell people that my artworks are based on mathematics, the conversation always stops and sometimes the room clears," says the 57-year-old full-time artist. Hopefully that won't be the case next weekend.
-- Nicole M. Miller
WPA\C Artist Fair on the Corcoran Lawn, New York Avenue between 17th and 18th streets NW. Today from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Open Studios are next Saturday and Sunday in D.C., Nov. 9-10 in Maryland and Nov. 16-17 in Virginia from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 202-639-1828 or visit www.wpaconline.org.
Elizabeth Whiteley's studio, 3001 Veazey Terrace NW, No. 803, will be open Nov. 1-3 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 202-364-4581.
WASHINGTON DOESN'T QUITE have its fair share of places to see local art and performances. That's where the Art-O-Matic show comes in. Now in its third edition, the exhibition gives a no-art-barred view of the region's creativity. More than 1,000 artists of every imaginable stripe have been invited to fill 100,000 square feet of unused Southwest Washington office space, formerly home to the Environmental Protection Agency. The offerings are bound to be very mixed, given that no one's in charge of sorting good from bad: Poker-playing dogs and spoon players are as likely to be seen and heard as the latest in art video and acid jazz. And many of Washington's established figures may choose to stay away; their art can only suffer in the free-for-all. But with a bit of luck, a talent or two may just come to light.
-- Blake Gopnik
At Waterfront, 401 M St. SW (site of the former Waterside Mall), Oct. 31-Nov. 30. Open Wednesdays and Thursdays noon to midnight, Fridays and Saturdays noon-1 a.m.; Sundays noon-10 p.m. Closed on Thanksgiving. Visit www.artomatic.org
SPEND HALLOWEEN AT the splendid Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at Maryland as one of the university's more celebrated alumni, the soprano Carmen Balthrop, returns to campus to sing Kurt Weill's "The Seven Deadly Sins." She will be backed by the Philharmonia Ensemble, a student chamber orchestra, which will also play George Whitefield Chadwick's "Hobgoblin" and Franz Schubert's Symphony No. 4. Balthrop is an exciting and charismatic artist -- and it is nice to see that some graduates stay true to their schools.
-- Tim Page
At the Clarice Smith Center's Dekelboum Concert Hall, on the campus of the University of Maryland, College Park. Thursday at 8 p.m. Free. Call 301-405-8169 or visit www.claricesmithcenter.umd.edu