The seventh annual Bel Air Film Festival kicked off Oct. 16 with the film “Harry and Snowman,” a documentary aimed at Harford County’s equestrian sensibilities.
Cooperation with the Maryland Film Office offers the opportunity for the Bel Air Film Festival to show documentaries that have recently shown on the festival circuit before they have received major release. Over the last several years, the festival has grown tremendously; both in scope and attendance. The opening night crowd was a record for the festival, filling the Bel Air Reckord Armory to near capacity. Some audience members came specifically to see the documentary, but many came simply to support a community event that continues to reflect Bel Air’s meshing of old-town charm and modern appeal.
Others came to remember the horse they knew from years past. Conversation at our table reminisced about meeting Harry and Snowman on a company outing. The ability to share direct experience with the younger generations in attendance was a special privilege that this event has always afforded. After the showing, Cathy Schmidt, founder and executive director of Chesapeake Therapeutic Riding, took the opportunity to share her organization’s success stories with the audience, building off the film’s theme that a horse is as much and friend and member of the family as a business.
Dutch immigrant Harry deLeyer journeyed to the United States after World War II and developed a transformative relationship with a broken-down Amish plow horse he rescued off a slaughter truck bound for the glue factory. Harry paid eighty dollars for the horse and named him Snowman. In less than two years, Harry & Snowman went on to win the Triple Crown of show jumping, beating the nation’s blue bloods. They were famous in their day and traveled around the world together. Their chance meeting at a Pennsylvania horse auction saved them both and crafted a friendship that lasted a lifetime. Eighty-six year old Harry tells their Cinderella love story firsthand, as he continues to train on today’s show jumping circuit. (Synopsis by Docutainment)
“Harry and Snowman” is a remarkably well-constructed documentary. Typically, a film generates engagement by focusing on drama and tension. While there is some of this in the interaction of Harry and his family and Harry versus high society, the focus stays largely on the simpler story of the horse and his impact on the sport. The fact that it can be so engaging without relying on film making “techniques” speaks volumes to the remarkably interesting life of a man who simply wanted to be a horse trainer. Interspersed within the film are references to the heyday of equestrian sport in America. This never becomes overly sentimental, but carefully balances the necessary scene setting with the romanticized era of classical horse jumping. There is a thread of wistfulness that plays out through the film that makes one nostalgic for the glory years of horse ownership.
THREE AND A HALF out of four stars.
Directed by Ron Davis