There was a 22% decline in films selected by European documentary festivals during the pandemic, according to research presented in Cannes, and films from underrepresented regions and continents, such as Africa, continued to receive little love from selectors.
On Monday, Marek Hovorka, festival director of Ji.hlava Intl. Documentary Film Festival, presented its annual report “East West Index,” which compared in-person documentary events in 2019, and festivals during the pandemic in 2020.
The survey covered 14 festivals; eight in Western Europe and six in Eastern Europe. These included CPH:DOX, Visions du Réel, IDFA, Cinéma du Réel, FIDMarseille and Ji.hlava.
The report found that 2,701 films were selected by these events in 2019, and 2,106 in 2020 – a one in five decline. Eleven festivals saw a decline in films selected and three had more films in their programs. The festivals in Western Europe saw a 25% decrease and those in Eastern Europe saw an 18% decrease.
As in previous editions, the survey looked at the nationality of the films selected. Films from Western Europe continued to dominate, while films from Africa, Asia and South America had the worst representation.
In 2019, the Western European festivals selected 56% of their films from Western Europe, 10% from Eastern Europe, 11% from North America, 10% from South America, 8% from Asia, and 5% from Africa. In 2020, the figures were films from Western Europe 58%; Eastern Europe 11%; North America 8%; South America 8%; Asia 9%; and Africa 6%.
In 2019, the Eastern European festivals selected 36% of their films from Western Europe; 39% from Eastern Europe; 12% from North America; 3% from South America; 5% from Asia; and 4% from Africa. In 2020, the figures were Western European films 38%; Eastern European films 39%; North American films 10%; South American films 2%; Asian films 9%; and African films 2%.
”In terms of regional balance, we can see that the program structure has not changed much, but if we focus on the details, we see how dangerous this trend of cutting down the festival program can be: The underrepresented regions were even less well represented during the COVID year,” Hovorka said.
“Of course, the number of films is not the only key criterion when analyzing the impact of film festivals, but losing such a big space for filmmakers might affect the diversity of presented films and change the European film infrastructure.”
Pictured: “The Letter” was Kenya’s submission for the International Oscar Race this year. Following its world premiere at IDFA in 2019, Maia Lekow and Christopher King’s film was screened at festivals around the world, including AFI Docs and Docs Barcelona, where it won a Special Jury mention.