Horses on the big screen isn’t exactly a mainstream draw, so if you wanted to kick back and enjoy a horse flick you might’ve been stuck watching Seabiscuit for the umpteenth time.
Lisa Diersen, founder of the EQUUS Film Festival, has another solution. One that doesn’t involve desperately trying different variations of the same keywords in the Netflix search bar, praying you’ll stumble upon a yet unseen title.
EQUUS Film Festival, launched by Diersen in 2013, is an annual event that brings together filmmakers from over 17 different countries to screen more than 80 films over the course of four days.
Like all great innovations, the Festival was born of necessity.
“It began because I had a friend who made a documentary called The Horse Boy, which is about a little boy with autism and how horses changed his life. It was so impactful to me…So I asked another friend who a had a theatre if we could screen the film there,” said Diersen.
And from there the idea grew.
Despite having no previous experience working in film, Diersen, an avid horsewoman, felt compelled to find a way to share stories like The Horse Boy. She soon discovered there was no shortage of them. In five years, EQUUS Film Festival has received over 600 submissions, among them are everything from shorts to features, documentaries to art films.
“Horses just change lives. I’ve seen it firsthand. It’s shown so well through the power of film,” she said. “Most of these horse films just get overlooked by the majority of the film world simply because they’re horse content.”
Yet, there exists an entire community of people who relish horse content. Through EQUUS Film Festival, Diersen is bridging the gap between equine films and audiences while also creating a space where artists can collaborate—several of which she’s recruited to the EQUUS team. In 2015, equestrian journalist Diana De Rosa joined the EQUUS herd. Filmmaker Julianne Neal and equine author Carly Kade followed shortly thereafter.
“That’s the fun part about it. It actually gets people more excited about horses, even if it’s just going to hang out in a barn, the idea is that the Festival is a vehicle to share horses with the world,” says Diersen.
The Festival brings together all forms of creators. In addition to the films, there are panel discussions and filmmaking talks, equine art and literature showcases, and the Winnie Awards (the Oscars of the horse world), which recognizes outstanding works.
Taken together, the niche initiative is creating greater incentive for filmmakers to not only produce equine cinematography but also to produce better films. Film quality has skyrocketed over the past five years, says Diersen.
For Diersen, it all comes back to the stories and creating the opportunity to express them through film’s unique ability to emotionally encapsulate its audience.
“Film can take you through a range of emotions in a theater. In a matter of minutes it can bring you joy, bring you sadness, make you laugh, and tell those stories that need to be told in a way they deserve to be told,” said Diersen.
What started with a single film about a young boy with autism is now growing into a world wide initiative—one set to grow exponentially over the next year.
Originally held in New York City, the EQUUS Film Festival moves to Wrigley Media Group Theatres at Kentucky Horse Park, December 5–8. But it’s biggest move yet is online. For those who can’t make the hack to the rolling green in Kentucky, Diersen has launched a new on-demand EQUUS Film Channel, in collaboration with Horse Network and Film Festival Flix.
Like Netflix for horse people, the platform enables film lovers to binge watch award-winning equine-centric films—from the comfort of their closest screen.
With films that tug on the heart strings (The Equestrian, Tails of Iceland), historical documentaries (Polo Women, Horse of Kings), inspirational stories (When the Dust Settles), training videos (Backyard Racehorse Series) and more, the Channel offers an ever growing variety of films. And more are added every month! (An additional 20 films are planned for August alone).
“I’m beyond thrilled for EQUUS Film Channel to partner with Horse Network and the massive audience and reach they bring to these fantastic films,” says Diersen. “Together, we’re giving horse films a starring role!”
Learn more at EQUUS Film Channel!