The 2013 Milwaukee Film Festival (http://mkefilm.org) has a Documentary Festival Favorites program, which include 24 documentaries. This Sunday, Oct. 6, the Fox-Bay Cinema Grill will screen "Maidentrip" at 1 p.m. The American documentary about a girl's record-breaking journey across the world will have its final screening at The Oriental Theatre on Monday, Oct. 9 at 12:30 p.m.
"Maidentrip" follows fourteen-year-old Laua Dekker who, after overcoming an ugly legal battle, sets out to be the youngest person to sail around the world alone. She allotted herself two years for the journey with no follow boat or support team, and so all footage from the boat is done by Dekker herself. This means a lot of "selfie"- type shots and shaky ocean views, which can be a bit nauseating after 82 minutes.
Dekker was literally born at sea as she was born in a boat off of New Zealand where she spent her first five years. She first knew she wanted to take on her record-breaking voyage after sailing to England alone a year earlier. Her knowledge and love of sailing is undeniable, as she takes the time to tell the history of her boat, Guppy, and thrills at the sight of it fighting its way through a storm. She goes through a lot to achieve her goal and live her dream, braving the shallow reefs of Torres Strait, avoiding pirates, and enduring the worst side of fame with both child protective services and the media fighting her, the worst of which saying, "I hope she sinks."
The documentary is meant to center around the young woman's coming-of-age story as she overcomes adversity to live her dream. However, her dreams soon take a backseat to her personal change as she ages two years and becomes increasingly antisocial. The viewer is made very aware of Dekker's young age as the very appropriate water color map tracks her journey, reflecting her youth. She begins her trip extremely lonesome and missing her father. This loneliness reached a point where she cried at the sight of dolphins saying,
I hope they swim for a while, a bit of company.
After some time alone at sea, Dekker's attitude shifts and she comes to enjoy long passages so as to avoid other people. She struggles with her identity, being born of the coast of New Zealand and raised in Holland, and completely cuts herself off from her Dutch upbringing. She similarly cuts herself off from her father, who she expressed great love and longing for at the start of her trip, insisting that she no longer needed him now that she's grown older. The girl who once loved to spend time on shore, exploring other countries, soon wants nothing more than to stay sailing, far away from bothersome people. Over the course of her two-year trip, the film becomes an adventure-style memoir of a teenage girl growing up rather than that of achieving a goal. Dekker's increased preference for solitude and disdain for public officials and journalists soon takes away from the main objective of the documentary, and becomes a lesson in how coming-of-age tales are not always the most pleasant ones.
One of a few moments showing Dekker's disdain for life on land and other people is during an interview at one of her stops. She admits that she doesn't like journalists because of repetitive questions when she'd rather be doing something else, and, instead of answering the questions or refusing to give interviews, she lashes out at the journalist or simply ignores her. This rude and immature display is one that can either be attributed to her increased independence and longing for solitude during a transitional time in her life, or lingering resentment towards the media after her initial legal battle to take the voyage in the first place. If the latter is true, much more focus is required to focus on the beginning trial and what it has done to her. In either case, it takes away from the acquired feeling of sympathy for the Dekker, which is crucial in a documentary surrounding her dream.
But even with justification for her disdain for the media and people as a whole (or omission of scenes displaying her disdain), Dekker's motive still comes into question. She compares herself to a past sailor who went for a record-breaking trip and abandoned his mission to keep sailing and enjoying himself. However, there is no comparison since Dekker's driven by the the time constraint to make herself the record-holder. Dekker expresses great sorrow at coming so close to New Zealand without being able to visit on her trip and not being able to stay at beautiful destinations longer, but she goes against her desires in order to hold the record. She says that she doesn't want to be famous and that she doesn't care if her story's put in history books (which may very well be true), but when setting the record becomes more important than sailing to dream destinations and enjoying her stops a while longer, one has to consider Dekker's motivation and why she would even agree to speak with reporters or have a documentary made about her.
Dekker's questionable motivation and increasing antisocial attitude are strong factors taking away from creating a bond between the viewer and the documentary's subject. However, it is still a remarkable journey filled beautiful landscapes, trials, and triumphs that few are likely to experience in their lifetime. "Maidentrip" allows audiences to live vicariously as they watch Laura Dekker achieve her goal of traveling 22,000 nautical miles over the course of 519 days alone starting when she was only 14.
"Maidentrip" screens at Fox-Bay Cinema Sunday, Oct. 6, at 1 p.m. and again at The Oriental Theatre on Wednesday, Oct. 9 at 12:30 p.m. For more information on the documentary, visit http://www.maidentrip.com/. For more information about The Milwaukee Film Festival, visit http://mkefilm.org.