Following the journey of Laura Dekker, the youngest person to sail alone around the world, Jillian Schlesinger’s debut documentary feature, “Maidentrip,” won the Visions Audience Award at SXSW this year, and makes its theatrical debut this January at the IFC Center. The film was a creative collaboration with Dekker, as she shot all of the footage on the boat by herself, while Schlesinger followed her on several of her stops around the world. We recently spoke with Schlesinger about the filmmaking process of “Maidentrip,” and also have an exclusive clip of the film to share. “Maidentrip” is nominated for a Cinema Eye Honor for its truly stunning watercolor-like animation by Moth Collective, mapping the visual of Laura’s two-year trip around the world.
Schlesinger first caught wind of Laura’s story in 2009 after reading an op-ed in the New York Times about the Dutch court case attempting to bar then-13 year-old Laura from making the solo trip. As Schlesinger puts it, “I felt like there was such robust discussion around the topic, but with very little attention to Laura’s voice in the conversation, and I couldn’t really find anything where it seemed like she had a chance to tell her own story.”
She reached out to Laura personally and proposed the idea of making a film about the trip together in a collaborative manner. As the two young women started the process, the filmmaker realized that Laura "was about to embark on this thing that she had never done before, and so in a way, we were on these sort of parallel journeys to pursue very different dreams, but both involved a lot of struggle and hardship, and also a lot of great moments of success and pride.” The result was a partnership of support and sharing journeys.
The collaborative process was of utmost importance for Schlesinger, in wanting to tell “this one very specific and subjective narrative that is her vision of both her trip, and of her childhood and her life so far.” She describes Dekker’s trip as a “creative project” in itself and believes that “anything that you’re really passionate about pursuing at that level is sort of a work of art.” Ultimately, the two women, “were able to work together to make that a work that she could then share and we could share with many other people so that they would be able to connect to her story as well.” Schlesinger was also committed to keeping the shooting process “feel fun and open and collaborative for anyone,” particularly Laura, who is shown in the film to be a bit uncomfortable with public attention.
Because Laura was shooting everything on the boat by herself, Schlesinger had to relinquish control, and this was something she was open to during the course of making the film. “I knew what I was getting myself into and I was really excited by moments that were very far outside of my control," she said. "Instead of feeling nervous or worried about what I would get, it was a very organic, constantly evolving process, where it wasn’t like I had a clear idea of exactly what I wanted to do and what I wanted it to be from the beginning, I was very open, just letting the story take off.”
Much of the narrative she knew would be shaped in post, and so she never instructed Laura on what or how to shoot, just wanting the camera to become “a confidant and friend, and someone to interact with and play with on the boat… if it had been something different than that then it would have been much less interesting and much less intimate.”
As for the young sailor’s response to the deeply personal film about her historical journey, Schlesinger says that “she’s super excited and proud of the fact that the film is resonating so much with people, the film has won multiple audience awards, and has gotten a lot of positive feedback, especially from young women and I think that that aspect of it is very exciting for her.”
“Maidentrip” opens January 17th at the IFC Center in New York and will continue rolling out. Check out the exclusive clip below featuring some of the award nominated animation.