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Meet the 2013 SXSW Filmmakers #39: Jillian Schlesinger Follows the 'Maidentrip' of the Youngest Person to Sail Around the World

By Indiewire | Indiewire March 6, 2013 at 9:27AM

Meet the 2013 SXSW Filmmakers #39: Jillian Schlesinger Follows the 'Maidentrip' of the Youngest Person to Sail Around the World
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Jillian Schlesinger
Jillian Schlesinger

Jillian Schlesinger picked an extremely ambitious project to start her career: a mix of found footage and new material documenting the trails of 14 year old Laura Decker as she sets out on a two-year voyage in pursuit of her dream to be the youngest person ever to sail around the world alone.

What it's about: The unusual life and adventures of Laura Dekker, the youngest person ever to sail around the world alone.

About the filmmaker:  "Maidentrip" is my first film as a director, but I have been addicted to storytelling in various forms since I was old enough to speak and write (and sing, I used to make up a lot of songs.) I always dreamed that my obsession with creating and sharing stories would eventually translate to the screen.

Seafaring stories were a part of the ethos of my childhood. When my dad was in his late teens, he dropped out of school, built a boat and sailed to South America. All of my bedtime stories as a kid were stories of the sea, some my dad's and others of famous captains and explorers. In school, I devoured any book about seafaring adventure, but never came across one with a woman (let alone a young woman) protagonist at the helm.

That image alone struck me as so powerful and cinematic, of a young girl alone at sea. It also touched on my equally profound obsession with adolescent narratives. I grew up on movies like "Stand By Me," and "Big," and pretty much every movie John Hughes ever made. It's a period of life that's so deeply confusing and lonely and yet so full of hope and possibility and connection. It's such a beautiful, painful, awkward, perfect time to explore in cinema.

At Brown, I studied linguistic anthropology and dramatic writing, the combination of which inspired a strong interest in the intersection between narrative and non-fiction storytelling. That is what has drawn me to the verite documentary form--the constraints of taking these organic, authentic elements and using them to form a riveting story that people can connect with in the same way as a fictional film.

What else do you want audiences to know about your film? It’s a film made by young women about a young woman—but it's a movie for everyone. I think kids will like it too! And I’m proud of the way it came to life. It took a (very generous and creatively talented) village to raise this wild child of a film. The only reason "Maidentrip" exists is because so many people—collaborators, backers and supporters, many total strangers—took a chance on it, despite complete lack of evidence that it could actually come to fruition. That includes Laura more than anyone—her confidence in me to do this and the courage to share this awesome creative adventure in relentless pursuit of both our crazy dreams...on so many levels, this film would not exist without that.

What was your biggest challenge in developing this project? The biggest challenge in developing "Maidentrip" was earning Laura's trust and participation in the project. After a several unanswered inquiries, I spent months preparing a proposal that included a long personal letter about my interest in making the film, visual inspiration boards and digital posters designed by Leah Koransky. Laura responded positively to the proposal, and eventually invited me to meet her on the half-built boat where she was living with her dad in Holland at the time, months before she set sail on the voyage.

Laura knew I had never directed a film, so it took a lot of guts on her part to put the telling of her extraordinary story in my hands. I think the collaborative nature of the project appealed to Laura, whose words and identity had been twisted and sensationalized for almost a year in Dutch and worldwide media coverage. I wanted to make a film with her, rather than about her--to provide the tools and platform for her unique voice to be heard.

What would you like SXSW audiences to come away with after seeing your film? Laura is a complex, powerful, and inspiring character who comes of age onscreen. Although the most awe-inspiring things about her

Laura Dekker in "Maidentrip"
SXSW Laura Dekker in "Maidentrip"

experience are remote and other-worldly, I hope that people will experience the more ordinary, universal aspects of Laura's story as much as the extraordinary ones. I want this to be a film that people don't necessarily expect to relate to, but then do--one that makes them feel things about their own life and adolescent struggle for independence and identity. And, really, I think if the film can make people laugh and cry and want to talk about it when it's over, I'm happy to have everyone come away with something different.

Did any specific films inspire you? I tend to draw a lot of inspiration from the emotional world created by a film more than by particular mechanics of the filmmaking. I didn't watch or think about too many docs while working on Maidentrip. Recent films that were on my mind a lot during various stages of production include "Winter’s Bone," "Where the Wild Things Are," "Somewhere," and "Beasts of the Southern Wild." In different ways, those films all capture a young person’s point of view in an authentic and all-encompassing way that pulls you fully into the world of the character. That was extremely important to me with this film, to capture the world of Laura’s adolescent experience both physically and emotionally—bringing what would otherwise be a completely remote, foreign experience into a very intimate and recognizable emotional space.

What do you have in the works? I have a couple doc ideas I’m exploring but nothing formed enough to share at the moment. I’m also working on a more narrative project that still has a lot of non-fiction/improvisational elements. It’s called “Please Carry South” and it’s about a woman who inadvertently boards a long-distance train in the wrong direction and the strange adventure that ensues. The story is very vaguely inspired by Alice In Wonderland--in fact, so vaguely that I already regret mentioning it.

Indiewire invited SXSW directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they're doing next. We'll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2013 festival.

Keep checking HERE every day up to the launch of the festival on March 8 for the latest profiles.

This article is related to: SXSW, Meet the 2013 SXSW Filmmakers






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