Jillian Schlesinger's "Maidentrip," which debuted at SXSW and screened at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, chronicles Dutch teen Laura Dekker's sail around the globe at age 14, a feat which would win her the title in 2012 of youngest person in history to make the voyage alone. Observant and unassuming, the documentary looks at the significance of Laura's trip not in terms of records, but as a rite of passage, and as a way for the teen to negotiate her past.
The film gets the ugly stuff out of the way first. Following Dekker's announcement to sail in 2009, she and her father were embroiled in a ten-month legal battle. Dutch authorities claimed that Laura needed a custody transfer, while the internet tossed words at her including "arrogant," "spoiled" and the particularly nasty sentiment: "I hope she sinks." After a year of warring with the courts and shouldering waves of media opinion, Laura was permitted to make her voyage, and to remain under her father's custody. This period in time Schlesinger keeps to an economical five-minute montage.
Indeed, "Maidentrip" is pleasantly free from the hysteria that surrounded Laura Dekker for over a year, and instead presents her trip in a judgment-free manner. It neither suggests (as it understandably could) that 14 is an alarmingly young age to traverse the mightily unforgiving Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, nor takes a blindly positive "Ra! Ra! Go Laura!" stance (as would be tempting, given that Laura proves herself an admirable badass in many ways).
Instead, Laura is portrayed as an independent outsider, at once open-hearted, enviably confident and a bit prickly, sick of what she sees as daily life in Holland (which she rounds up succinctly: "Get money, get a house, get a husband, get a baby, then die"). She pines for a truly outsized adventure. While other young record-holding sailors completed the round-world trip without lengthy stops at ports, Laura gives herself two years for the excursion, so that she can soak in the land-bound culture of the different climes where she alights (among them French Polynesia, Australia, the Galapagos Islands and South Africa).
A large portion of the footage we see was filmed exclusively by Laura while onboard. To be eligible as a record-holder, she was allowed no crewmates while captaining her trusty boat The Guppy, so Dekker acts as her own camera operator and narrator, periodically filming herself throughout her trip, commenting on the winds, weather and whatever else might be on her mind.