Picture a young Jennifer Lawrence starring in the film ‘All is Lost.’ Now visualize the Dutch teenager Laura Dekker having more seafaring skills than Robert Redford and the documentary ‘Maidentrip’ begins to take shape in this real-life adventure. Laura’s dream was ‘to be the youngest ever to sail around the world alone,” but she didn’t want to break a speed record. Instead, she wanted to experience the remote and beautiful corners of the planet. She is such a competent sailor that the only force working against her was the Dutch government. When the local authorities caught wind of her planned voyage, at age 13, they try to stop her out of fear for her safety.
Filmmaker Jillian Schlesinger first came across Laura Dekker’s story through the New York Times. Instead of focusing on the highly publicized custody battle where the media called her “delusional” and “spoiled,” Schlesinger contacted the girl, gained her trust and embarked on a compelling documentary that focuses on her amazing voyage. When Dekker finally got the green light to set sail, Schlesinger had her bring along some of her cameras to perform regular updates of her voyage on video. It was Schlesinger’s hope that some of the footage might later be used in a feature film. Dekker exceeded her expectations. Her confessions on video are poignant. It is like watching a video “selfie.” She is so candid, self-reflective and charismatic during these scenes where she is alone on the vast ocean.
When Dekker sets sail from Gibraltar at the age of 14, on a 38-foot sailboat her and her father refurbished and christened “Guppy,” her journey is deftly captured with the use of watercolor-style map illustrations. She makes stops at the Canary Islands, the Panama Canal, the Galapagos Islands and French Polynesia. It shows her hanging out with an American sailing couple that act like surrogate parents to her and at another port-of-call, she catches up with her mother and sister. In Australia, her father meets up with her to help fix repairs to the battered “Guppy.” At one point, as she is stuck adrift with no wind to move her boat forward for 47 days, instead of getting depressed and self-defeated, the experience makes her stronger. She proclaims, “I love being alone and I think freedom is when you aren’t attached to anything.”
It’s fascinating to see how this adolescent girl matures during her journey. At first, she experiences a tearful moment as we see footage of dolphins swimming alongside her sailboat and she begs them to linger just a moment longer. She also captures dangerous moments sailing through rough waters. She braves heavy rain and 60-foot waves through the Torres Strait and another hazardous stretch around the Cape of Good Hope. She had to take these more treacherous routes to avoid Somali pirates further north. What we take away from these harrowing scenes is Dekker’s remarkable skill as a sailor. We learn that that she grew up in a broken home. When her parents divorced, she chose to live with her shipbuilding father and that he sparked her first interest in sailing. While living with her dad, she learned at an early age to be self-sufficient. These life lessons served her well during her spectacular expedition.
The documentary drills home the adage, “Life is about the journey, not the destination.” Not only is Dekker’s journey breathtaking but it’s an unconventional portrait of maturing adolescence. It’s so refreshing to see a teenage girl achieving her passion in life rather than pining for a boyfriend or obsessing over social media. And it’s not just Dekker’s journey but Schlesinger’s journey to get this project off the ground. The young filmmaker was working on staff at the Sundance channel as a production supervisor, but after meeting Dekker, she gave her two-weeks notice to devote herself to making the film. She turned to Kickstarter to help raise funds for the film project.
‘Maidentrip’ is a fascinating documentary that chronicles Laura Dekker’s incredible achievement. At times the camera acts like a ‘Wilson’ volleyball like in the film, ‘Cast Away.’ This is more than a young girl breaking a world record, it is about finding one’s true self and passions in life and enjoying the ride along the way. For details on where to view ‘Maidentrip,’ please visit First Run Features http://firstrunfeatures.com/maidentrip/. Check out the official trailer http://youtu.be/04z3dS6P60g.