Maidentrip Movie Review: A Journey of Both Personal and Historical Significance

A trip worth taking.
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Maidentrip is director Jillian Schlesinger's documentary/compilation of the story of Laura Dekker, the teenage adventurer who sought to become the youngest person to sail alone around the world without any assistance or follow boats. However, Laura's journey isn't just about guiding a boat around the globe -- it's one of developing a sense of maturity, independence, responsibility, identity, family, and belonging.

After being born on a boat in New Zealand and living on the water for the first five years of her life, her family relocated to Holland, and her parents separated. She stayed with her boat-builder father to pursue her lifelong dream of returning to the sea. When she became a teenager and sought to realize that dream by circumnavigating the globe in a 40-foot sailboat, despite the support of her father, the Dutch legal system sought to take custody of her to prevent what it considered a too-dangerous undertaking. They eventually caved and permitted her voyage, but all of the personal and legal conflict and setbacks served only to strengthen her resolve and build up her yearning to hit the waves.

With great anticipation and some admitted impatience, the journey began. It didn't take long before a sense of isolation set in, and Laura began to miss her father and her home. Out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the reality and gravity of the situation started to hit -- this was really happening, she was really doing this. It's exciting, but also terrifying, and every bit of it is documented on camera on the boat by Laura herself, and a pretty nice camera at that -- the footage is bright and clear and generally steady and well edited.

Breaks from loneliness came in the form of dolphins swimming alongside the boat, meeting up with other seafarers, or docking at ports of call to visit locals, family, or restock supplies. This wasn't a race, it was a journey, so each stop along the way was chronicled and documented, but also tactfully compiled to not get bogged down at any point.

Laura started to adjust to life on the boat and stopped missing luxuries from home, even the people back home as she made new friends on the trip. She became more self-reliant, responsible, and diligent in making difficult boat repairs on the fly and navigating tougher paths to avoid greater dangers like pirates or reefs. As she neared New Zealand, great conflict arose between completing the voyage she set out to make and simply returning to the nation of her birth and calling it quits. She wasn't interested in fame or being in the history books. It wasn't that she was tired of the sea, but that she'd not been that close to the Kiwis since she was born and had always wanted to return there.

If you followed the story on the news or have 10 seconds to spare on Google, you'll know that she ultimately completed her lap around the world, but not quite as originally intended. The final leg of the trip was impacted by several heavy personal choices she made along the way, many of which play out in front of the camera with a maturity I don't think many people would expect from a girl her age.

The bulk of the footage being shot in person by Laura really gives the viewer the sense that they're on the trip and even on the boat with her much of the time. The way the footage is combined keeps the pace moving while allowing time for some really breathtaking shots and personal revelations by the Guppy's captain. It could have perhaps dwelled on some smaller details longer, but at 82 minutes, the runtime felt pretty much right without making any major sacrifices. One thing to know going in is that the whole tale is told in a mixture of English, rough English with subtitles, and Dutch with subtitles. It's a little jarring sometimes to go from comfortably listening along to having to start reading to keep up with the conversation, but it's not enough to detract from the experience. Each major landmark and navigational transition is illustrated in a very charming animated watercolor fashion.

It was not all, as they say, smooth sailing, but many major perils that could have befallen young Laura on her incredible journey were deftly avoided through thorough planning. Had she not brought along her video camera and documented the whole thing, this film wouldn't have been possible. It was a trip worth taking, her story's worth telling, and Maidentrip is worth seeing.

Maidentrip opens on January 17th at the IFC Center in New York

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