TO JUNE 16

The variable trade route known as the Silk Road passed from the great cities of the Mediterranean to the greater ones of China and Japan, but there was a lot of rough territory in between. This series, part of an extensive Silk Road program the Smithsonian has scheduled this summer, concentrates on films from or about Western China and Central Asia, long a domain of warlords and bandits. The journey begins this weekend with two films that mingle history and fiction: The Silk Road (at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 11) and The Fall of Otrar (at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 12). The former is a sweeping Japanese melodrama, set in 11th-century China, that purports to tell how a large store of scrolls came to be hidden in a Buddhist cave complex in the Chinese desert; in addition to vast, dusty landscapes and massive battle scenes, the tale revisits the classic Asian scenario of a young scholar separated from his beautiful young lover. The second film is a sepia-toned Kazakh epic about Genghis Khan’s campaign to conquer a Muslim city; the narrative is somewhat perplexing, but the vivid imagery recalls such poetic Soviet directors as Eisenstein and Tarkovsky. Subsequent screenings include Delbaran (at 7 p.m. Friday, May 17, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 19), an Iranian tale of an Afghan war orphan; Luna Papa (at 7 p.m. Friday, June 7); Killer (pictured, at 7 p.m. Friday, June 14); and a film from Kyrgyzstan, Beshkempir: The Adopted Son (at 2 p.m. Sunday, June 16). The series runs to Sunday, June 16, at the Freer Gallery of Art’s Meyer Auditorium, 12th and Jefferson Drive SW. Free. (202) 357-4880. (Mark Jenkins)