Ron Davis and Harry deLeyer of "Harry & Snowman" at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival
Among the multitude of wonderful screenings at this year’s Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, Ron Davis’s Harry & Snowman was a standout. Due to popular demand, Full Frame added additional screenings of the film, sure to delight horse lovers, to its lineup.
Indeed, the film has been a hot commodity all over this year’s festival circuit, boasting prominent billing at Full Frame, the Mendocino Film Festival, the Nantucket Film Festival, Docfest, Dances with Films, and the Provincetown International Film Festival. It has also enjoyed overwhelmingly positive reviews from the Hollywood Reporter, Indiewire, the Herald-Sun, and People’s World.
Harry & Snowman tells the story of Harry deLeyer, a Dutch immigrant and horseback riding instructor whose chance encounter with a very special horse in 1956, which he named Snowman, would change both of their lives. deLeyer rescued Snowman at a Pennsylvania horse auction, where the horse was billed as a reject and auctioned at a low price. But deLeyer, feeling an immediate connection with the steed, purchased it anyway. With deLeyer’s training, Snowman quickly became a champion show jumper, catapulting into fame and notoriety after winning the show jumping equivalent of the Triple Crown.
Harry & Snowman’s filmmaker, Ron Davis, is in the midst of building himself a notable career of his own. He was named in the top ten for Esquire Magazine’s 2004 Celluloid Style film competition for his student films. Since then, Davis has had two films premiere on prime television networks, Pageant (2010) on the Sundance Channel and Miss You Can Do It (2013) on HBO.
At the 2015 Full Frame Documentary Festival, Indiezone.TV was honored to talk with Davis and deLeyer. Davis explained why he was drawn to deLeyer’s story, and the film’s subject touched on his own storied history and relationship with the adopted horse who would become an unlikely hero.
Harry & Snowman: the Rise of an Unexpected Champion and His Owner
As you can hear in the clip, Davis explains how he first became familiar with Snowman and deLeyer’s story: “I became aware of Harry back in the 80s, when he was known worldwide as the ‘Galloping Grandfather’ at Madison Square Garden. But I became aware of the Snowman story about five years ago, when the book the Eighty-Dollar Champion came out and told that part of his life story. By the time the paperback came out, my friends all pushed me, and pushed me, and pushed me, and I realized there was something really special that audiences would just be drawn to and love.”
We were amazed to learn from deLeyer that he’d never planned on a career in equine husbandry. “I started when I was six years old,” he said. “It was just a hobby for me, and I wanted to keep it a hobby.” But World War II took a devastating toll on his native Netherlands, and deLeyer eventually immigrated to the United States as post-war tensions grew. At the Knox School in Long Island, New York, he was hired as a horseback riding instructor.
The encounter with Snowman came about as an effort to find a beginner horse on which his students could learn to ride. Set against that Cold War-era backdrop, the film beautifully relates how Snowman not only influenced deLeyer’s personal development, but had a powerful, lasting effect on an entire nation with his rags-to-riches rise on the show jumping circuit.