Maidentrip (Director: Jillian Schlesinger): The idea of a 13 year old girl naut­ic­ally cir­cum­nav­ig­at­ing the globe alone would sound nutty and ill-advised to nearly any­one. Those were the cir­cum­stances that garnered world­wide media atten­tion and touched off a con­ten­tious debate and court battle in 2009 when Dutch teen Laura Dekker announced her inten­tion to carry out the plan, and which set the stage for dir­ector Jillian Schlesinger’s Maidentrip. After 10 months of legal pro­ceed­ings, which included Dutch author­it­ies veri­fy­ing the sound­ness of both her sail­ing skills and men­tal capa­city, Dekker even­tu­ally unof­fi­cially began her epic exped­i­tion by set­ting sail alone (which also means without a sup­port team on a fol­low boat) from Gibraltar in August 2010, a month before her 15th birth­day. Successful com­ple­tion of the 27,000 naut­ical mile jour­ney would make Dekker the young­est per­son to sail around the globe solo. The record attempt offi­cially began in January 2011, as Dekker depar­ted St. Martin on her 38 foot sail­boat named Guppy. 366 days later, Dekker arrived back in St. Martin.

After spend­ing a short amount of time onscreen with the sailor, it’s clear that Dekker is mature far bey­ond her age and instilled with an unflag­ging drive to chal­lenge her­self, a fear­less tem­pera­ment, and little patience for those who ques­tion her abil­it­ies and decisions. The teen­ager was born on a boat and has spent much of her life on the water, even choos­ing to live with her father when her par­ents split up because it would mean more oppor­tun­it­ies to sail. Because her dad had to work so much, Dekker was often left to look after her­self and that inde­pend­ence serves her quite well dur­ing the solo excur­sion.

Armed with a video cam­era, Dekker con­trib­utes video diar­ies that detail vari­ous aspects of her exper­i­ence like cook­ing dis­asters, the wel­come com­pan­ion­ship of a roost­ing bird or a pod of dol­phins swim­ming along­side her ship, and some of the trip’s weather-related chal­lenges (at one point, there’s been vir­tu­ally no wind for a stretch of sev­eral days). Much of that might sound rather dull — it’s any­thing but, how­ever. Dekker’s funny and thought­ful obser­va­tions make for highly enjoy­able view­ing and the absence of very many dra­matic moments in the film (largely because Dekker was unable to film them) isn’t a major neg­at­ive. The adven­ture, in and of itself, is drama enough. The hair­i­est thing in Maidentrip occurs dur­ing some dread­ful weather off the coast of South Africa that res­ults in waves as high as 60 feet. The weather is so severe that a South African news­pa­per referred to the con­di­tions as some that “even the bravest skip­per wouldn’t attempt” to nav­ig­ate, but Dekker makes her way through the storm safely, offer­ing little indic­a­tion of fear in her nar­ra­tion as her cam­era cap­tures the raging sea sur­round­ing Guppy. She dis­plays the same poise at another moment in the doc­u­ment­ary as she cas­u­ally men­tions that her route had to be planned to avoid pir­ates on the Indian Ocean. Dekker’s video diar­ies also fas­cin­at­ingly chron­icle the teen­ager com­ing of age on the water and increas­ingly feel­ing more con­nec­ted to the sea than to people, even say­ing at one point that she no longer feels reli­ant on any­body. One of my biggest shocks with Maidentrip came at the post-screen­ing Q&A when it was revealed that Dekker only shot a total of 10 hours of video for the pro­ject. Kudos to the film­makers (not­ably editor Penelope Falk) for mak­ing the most of the rel­at­ively little on-ship foot­age that was avail­able to them. The pleas­ing score from Ben Sollee also mer­its a men­tion.

Throughout Dekker’s trip, help­fully tracked with effect­ive use of some amus­ing graph­ics, Schlesinger meets up with her seven times to film at the many exotic ports the sailor stopped in, such as in the Galapagos Islands, French Polynesia, and Panama. We see Dekker soak­ing in the local cul­tures, par­ti­cip­at­ing in activ­it­ies like bike rides and scuba diving, deal­ing with a cus­toms offi­cial who struggles to grasp the spon­tan­eous nature of her travels, and also bond­ing closely with a nice American couple who are on their own world­wide sail­ing exped­i­tion. There’s also a scene where Dekker’s war­i­ness of the press is illus­trated, as she snaps at ques­tions from a journ­al­ist who has covered the teenager’s story for a num­ber of years.

I’m someone who couldn’t have cared less about the activ­ity of sail­ing prior to watch­ing the charm­ing Maidentrip, but it was impossible not be deeply drawn in by the film’s improb­able scen­ario and, mostly, its enga­ging sub­ject and her amaz­ingly pure love for the water and adven­tur­ous spirit. Laura Dekker’s story prac­tic­ally demands a dra­matic fea­ture ver­sion from Hollywood.

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