In 2009, a then 13-year-old Laura Dekker announced her intention to sail around the world alone, incurring the wrath of the Dutch court system, whose objections delayed her trip by a year. While this was going on, Jillian Schlesinger, an aspiring filmmaker in New York, heard about Dekker and wanted in on her journey, sending her a personal letter and designs, asking to help Laura tell her story on film. Thus, two parallel journeys were launched, as these two young women embarked on projects they had never undertaken before. The result is the inspiring “Maidentrip,” a collaboration between Schlesinger and Dekker that chronicles Dekker’s journey, and captures her indomitable spirit of adventure.
The film is a true creative collaboration: Dekker shot all of the footage at sea herself, with a handheld or mounted camera, while Schlesinger met her during several of her stops at port to film Laura on dry land. Dekker’s camera captures stunning sunsets, rolling seas, and wicked storms, but it also becomes her only friend aboard her sailboat Guppy. During the two-year journey, there are times when Dekker is alone at sea for weeks and months at time, and the camera is her “Wilson” of sorts; a confidant, boredom alleviation, a way to celebrate special or challenging moments (crossing the equator, making it around storms at the Cape of Good Hope). This intimate relationship with the camera allows us to see Dekker in an extremely honest light: she’s incredibly, preternaturally capable and confident, but she’s also still just a goofy, awkward teenager with questionable taste in music.
Conversely, Schlesinger’s camera captures Dekker at her most vulnerable: tired and cranky with a Dutch journalist, saying goodbye to sailing friends, or dealing with typical teenage struggles with her family. Both images of the young woman are necessary for this film to work, complicating the image of the brave young sailor, offering different facets of her personality and a more well-rounded portrait for the film.
Schlesinger bolsters Dekker’s historic journey with the story of her very young, yet remarkable life. Born in New Zealand, Dekker spent her first five years on a boat, before her parents moved back to Holland and subsequently split up. Living with her equally sailing-obsessed father, Dekker grew up and learned how to take care of herself quickly, feeling out of place amongst her peers and seeking adventure from an early age. After the dissolution of her family, and instilled by her father with a love of sailing and skill with boats, Dekker just wants to return to the life of a sailor and to the ocean— the one place she feels at home.
Though she’s the youngest person to make this journey, as it becomes apparent during “Maidentrip,” it’s not about completing the trip, it’s about the journey itself. Dekker discovers this during her two-year voyage, her final sail into port is almost anti-climactic after such a life-changing experience. There are other moments along the way that seem more meaningful for her, and both her discovery and the film’s discovery of what’s really important in this story is incredibly poignant.
In its execution of this remarkable tale, the film is simple, yet lovely, using an animated watercolor illustration map of the world to chart Dekker’s journey, and a lilting, acoustic score to round out the soundtrack. The pared-back approach allows the story, and Laura’s adventurous spirit shine through, in the good times and the bad, in stormy weather and in the doldrums. “Maidentrip” ends up being not necessarily about the amazing feat that Dekker accomplished, it’s about finding one’s true self, and enjoying the ride along the way. [B+]