So many modern documentaries don't even feel like the truth anymore. With expertly composed frames and painterly cinematography, documentaries can sometimes feel like dramatic reenactments more than slices of history or current events. Those kinds of docs can be powerful and gorgeous to look at, but something feels inherently manufactured about them. That's why "Harry & Snowman" feels so refreshing: it's shot simply and plainly without sacrificing any of the story's power.
Harry de Leyer came to the United States with nothing but his skills. He was a Dutch immigrant, a war hero and an expert horse trainer, finding work at an exclusive girls school in North Carolina. He purchased Snowman, a plow horse, at a last-resort horse auction for $80, and that one decision changed the course of his life.
Snowman was such a laid back animal that Harry started out letting beginner riders have a go. The horse was kind and gentle, even with children. Harry eventually sold Snowman to a doctor several miles down the road, but a few days later found Snowman standing in front of his house. Snowman had jumped the doctor's fence and run the six miles home. After buying Snowman back, they never parted again.
Harry saw how talented Snowman was at jumping the fences and began to train him as a show jumper. As soon as they started competing, Harry and Snowman began winning. The documentary chronicles Harry and Snowman's journey from last-ditch horse auction all the way to Madison Square Garden's National Horse Show in 1958 and beyond.
The American aristocracy attended horse shows regularly in the 1950s and 1960s, when horse jumping was seen as less elegant than some of the higher-profile divisions. So, not only is "Harry & Snowman" a heart-lifting tale of a man and his horse, but it's also an underdog story about the haves and the have-nots. Harry and Snowman are both worth rooting for and the documentary makes it easy to be in their corner.
Harry de Leyer is 86 years old now and still riding, training and loving horses. He has lived a remarkable and full life, working his way from the very bottom to the heights of the horse world. "Harry & Snowman" is a lovely story very simply told without flourishes or embellishment. The film doesn't lionize its subjects, nor does it take them lightly.
Documentaries should always service their subjects while remaining an interesting piece of art. This film does both in a way that feels honest and refreshing, telling the simple story of a man and his horse. Sometimes, that's all you need.
"Harry & Snowman"
Dir. Ron Davis
Opens Friday at Sisters Movie House