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Review: In Documentary 'Maidentrip,' Laura Dekker Looks for Paradise in a Sea that Never Ends

Photo of Beth Hanna By Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood January 16, 2014 at 1:47PM

Jillian Schlesinger's "Maidentrip" chronicles Dutch teen Laura Dekker's sail around the globe, 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.
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Maidentrip

Laura's camera proves therapeutic for the onset of loneliness that strikes her early in the expedition; the device is something to talk to. She comments on the silly and mundane, but also on the more profound experiences of being thousands of miles from land or another human. We hear her sniffling through tears as she films a pod of dolphins swimming alongside her boat, pleading with them to stay awhile and assuage her feelings of isolation.

Yet as time and the documentary go on we sense a change in Laura. She's relishing the days on end of alone time, and seemingly more attuned to the fluctuations of the ocean. A rather dicey passage around the southernmost tip of South Africa offers up 60-foot waves and weather conditions that a newspaper informs us "even the bravest skipper wouldn't attempt." Laura checks in with us for a moment during this leg of the journey, glowing green in her camera's night vision, unphased by the torrents of rain and wind raging outside.

Of course many of the most daring parts of Laura's voyage -- those that would consume her undivided attention -- aren't caught on camera, and we're left to fill in the blanks. Director Schlesinger instead focuses on the meditative aspects of the young woman's sail, examining how a preternaturally assured teen handles the day-in, day-out routines of taking care of herself and her home, getting from point A to point B, drifting pleasantly in between, and greeting and parting from new places and friends.

I would argue that Laura's voyage is a coming-of-age, at once grander and more outlandish than most, while set in a strangely contained microcosm of time (two years) and space (her 40-foot boat). Yet Schlesinger also pointedly includes home video and photo montages of Laura's early life as an infant and toddler, when she and her parents, who soon thereafter divorced, were sailing the globe as a family. It's telling that Laura retraces her parents' route port for port, and that she repeatedly refers to the sunny, tropical locations as"paradise." As she describes in voiceover her difficult childhood, much of which she spent alone while her single father worked and her mother began a new, separate life, we realize that Laura's record-breaking sail not only represents her ascension into adulthood, but also her way to reclaim a paradise lost.

Watch an exclusive clip from "Maidentrip" here. The film opens at IFC Center on January 17.

This article is related to: Reviews, Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, Documentary, Documentaries, Maidentrip


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.