THE AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL Film Festival, which has introduced some of the best in global cinema to audiences throughout the country, arrives in Washington this week for the first time, with a three-day program of premieres and rarely seen films dealing with human rights. Co-sponsored by the National Geographic Society, the series kicks off Thursday with "Darwin's Nightmare," Hubert Sauper's documentary about an environmental disaster in Tanzania's Lake Victoria. The film took top honors at this year's SilverDocs festival. On Friday the festival screens "State of Fear," a documentary that examines the ramifications of the war on terror through the lens of the recent guerrilla war in Peru. Saturday brings several local premieres, including "Little Peace of Mine," a documentary about a peace movement composed of Palestinian and Israeli kids; "War Games," another nonfiction film, which chronicles the involvement of children competing athletically in one of the most dangerous battle zones in Africa; and "Innocent Voices," Luis Mandoki's fictionalized story of Oscar Torres, who as a boy became the head of his family in the middle of El Salvador's civil war. The festival will also show "Made in China: Mardi Gras," which recently played at the DC Labor Filmfest.
-- Ann Hornaday
"Darwin's Nightmare" will be shown at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in Grosvenor Auditorium at the National Geographic Society, 1600 M St. NW, where all screenings will take place. Admission is $8 ($6 for students, children younger than 12, and National Geographic and Amnesty International members). For more information, call 202-857-7700 or visit www.nationalgeographic.com/nglive.
"SANDALWOOD CARVING isn't like painting," Chan Laiwa, founder of the China Red Sandalwood Museum in Beijing, explains. "You will never have a chance to make a mistake." At the National Museum of Women in the Arts, ferocious carved sandalwood dragons, frothy peonies and beak-to-beak birds are carved and polished to perfection. The furniture and sculptures send ancient messages of imperial power, prosperity and fertility. But if the designs date back to the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, China's golden age of furniture, these pieces are almost brand new. The dozen objects, which range from a monumental screen to brush pots, come from the Beijing museum, which Chan, chairwoman of Fu Wah International and a descendant of the Qing dynasty's founding Manchu family, established in 1999 at a personal cost of $20 million. The museum has more than 200 originals. It also has a workshop set up by Chan to revive carving skills, which fell victim to the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s.
-- Linda Hales
"Mystique of Sandalwood" is at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1250 New York Ave. NW, through Dec. 4. Open Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday noon-5 p.m. $8 ($6 for students and seniors; free for members and visitors 18 and under; first Wednesday and Sunday of the month are free). Call 202-783-5000 or visit www.nmwa.org.
THE CAPITOL WOODWIND QUINTET, considered one of the leading ensembles of its kind, will present an unusually diverse and engaging program late this afternoon, ranging from the dapper Gallic elegance of Jean Francaix to the urgent Argentine stylings of Astor Piazzola, who all but single-handedly revived interest in the tango. The players, all members of the National Symphony Orchestra or the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, have been working together for 28 years, with performances at the National Gallery, the Phillips Collection, Dumbarton Church and Strathmore Hall, along with many radio appearances. This is the first of four concerts the quintet will play this season, all of them at Temple Micah.
-- Tim Page
At Temple Micah, 2829 Wisconsin Ave. NW. Today at 5 p.m. Tickets are $16; $14 for senior citizens; $10 for students. For more information, call 703-352-6506 or visit www.capitolwoodwindquintet.org.
IN A WORLD THAT FEELS as though it's always coming at you, it might not hurt to find a work of art willing to play wallflower. An installation by Chinese American artist Mei-Ling Hom, the latest in the "Perspectives" series at the Sackler, has that kind of shy demeanor. Hom has filled the museum's entrance atrium with a flock of clouds made with manipulated hex netting -- also known as chicken wire. Her 30 "clouds" hover by the ceiling, almost out of sight and mind. They're more like the shadows of art objects than art objects themselves. But their evanescent presence is what gives them heft.
-- Blake Gopnik
At the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 1050 Independence Ave. SW, through March 5. Open daily 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Free. Call 202-633-4880 or visit www.asia.si.edu.