Laura Dekker on her trip around the world in a scene from Jillian Schlesinger's documentary film Maidentrip

SXSW ’13 Review: A Short Trip Around the World Becomes a Long Journey to Come of Age In “Maidentrip”

“Nobody says life is easy,” Laura Dekker says halfway through the documentary “Maidentrip.” “But it’s a pretty annoying fact.” While that’s a common lament amongst teens, Dekker’s restlessness is on a larger scale when she sets out to become the youngest woman to sail around the world.

At first, “Maidentrip” hints at a story pitting the 14-year-old against the world, a quick succession of clips depicting the 10-month court case that ensued after the Dutch child services became aware of her plans to circumnavigate the globe alone and the wave of criticism aimed at her and her parents. Yet that din dissolves in the cool air of the sea as Dekker pushes off in the small boat she’s nicknamed Guppy from Den Osse, Holland in August 2010, waving goodbye to her father and her dog Spot. It’s noted that from this point on, Laura does all her own filming, a claim that grows more suspect as “Maidentrip” wears on, but then “Maidentrip” portrays a greater truth about the girl who becomes a woman right before our very eyes.

Although Dekker is as eloquent about her travels as you’d expect from an average teen, her observations vacillating between wistfully aspirational and bluntly insouciant, it’s everything but what she says directly that begin to tell the story. Her facial features begin to sharpen and her confessions to the camera (which fills a role akin to Wilson, Tom Hanks’ volleyball buddy in “Cast Away”) increasingly reveal that she has found a place in the world where she’s comfortable and confident, no longer reliant on anybody but herself for survival and most at ease with a life far away from the rest of the world at sea.

This is what largely supplies the drama in “Maidentrip” since only a rough patch around the southern tip of Africa and an unusually mean-spirited journalist who boards Dekker’s boat in Australia provide any real tension during the course of the two-year trek. As Dekker admits, unlike the other young women who have ventured out to circle the globe for sport to set records, she initially planned a slower trip to stop and see the sights, but as she grows more circumspect, she finds herself preferring her own company rather than that of others, taking fewer breaks to dock on land and less interested in being bothered by anything that doesn’t involve the direction of her boat.

Director Jillian Schlesinger, who shares the credit with Dekker, and perhaps should include editor Penelope Falk as well in the possessory “A film by…”, is at the mercy of her main character, so after the initial excitement of Dekker casting off to sea, learning to pop popcorn for the first time and meeting up with her mom and sis in St. Martaan, “Maidentrip” rocks with the same intensity of the Guppy. There’s exhilaration to start, but the filmmakers are also content to ride out longer passages by placing the audience in Dekker’s shoes, with only the waves and the sunset are there to hold interest. If in the proper mood, it’s transporting, though for those without sealegs, not as much.

To please the latter group, the film is dressed up with truly lovely watercolor-esque maps provided by the Moth Collective tracing Dekker’s voyage and classy, convivial string accompaniment by Ben Sollee that liven up the journey. Yet the magic in “Maidentrip” emerges from the fact that regardless of the young sailor’s considerable nautical expertise, there is no such thing as smooth sailing on the trip Dekker is going on and watching her navigate those waters is a beautiful and exciting sight to behold.

“Maidentrip” does not yet have U.S. distribution. It will play SXSW three more times on Tuesday, March 12th at 11 a.m. and Thursday March 14th at 1:30 p.m. at the Rollins Theatre and at the Alamo Village on Wednesday, March 13th at 2 p.m. 

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