The contrasts were stark, in some cases.
Ji.hlava IDFF commissioned a survey (the East West Index) that reviewed three years of statistics from 14 documentary festivals in Europe, seven from Western European countries and seven from former Soviet Bloc countries (including East Germany). The results showed that documentaries from Eastern Europe fared poorly at the seven West European festivals, accounting for as little at 5 percent of the selection (at Cinema du Reel) to an outlier high of 25 percent at one edition of Doclisboa. In comparison, documentaries from Western Europe accounted for 35 percent to 60 percent at those same festivals, with most of the figures in the range of 50 percent.
By contrast, documentary festivals in East European countries had a much wider range, with East European docs accounting for as little as 18 percent (at Poland’s Millenium Docs Against Gravity) to 58 percent (at Serbia’s Beldocs), while films from Western Europe accounted for a low of 20 percent (at Ji.hlava) to a high of 55 percent (at Leipzig, which Ji.hlava places in the Western Europe category), with an average in the 30 percent to 40 percent range.
While some of the differences can be attributed to national competitions (such as the Czech Joy competition at Ji.hlava), festival programmers said that part of the disparity was due to a lower number of films submitted from the East European territories. Additionally, representatives from festivals across the breadth of Europe agreed that while the countries are now part of a continent that is no longer divided by a wall, there is still a cultural divide in Europe, due in part to the diverging paths of the histories of Eastern and Western Europe.
“It’s a very complex situation,” Hovorka told FNE in a post-panel conversation. “It a topic for a longer discussion.”
The statistics appeared to open the eyes of at least some of the West European festival programmers in attendance, one of whom vowed to be more aware of bringing a better balance of East European films to their festival.
The results of the survey are published online at https://www.ji-hlava.com/eastwestindex, with a promise from the festival to continue to monitor the situation.