Maidentrip is an all too brief documentary recording the remarkable personal odyssey of then 13-year-old Laura Dekker

As Lao Tzu’s well-worn bromide goes, ‘every journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.’ In the case of Maidentrip (opening at Rialto Cinemas Elmwood on Friday, March 21), however, a lengthy trip can also begin with as little as a gentle breath of wind.

Dutch teenager Laura Dekker made international headlines in 2009 when, at only 13 years of age, she announced her intention to become the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe. The daughter of a Dutch father and German mother who themselves had previously sailed around the world, the New Zealand-born Dekker spent the first four or five years of her life at sea and clearly never became comfortable on land.

Vilified by the Dutch press (who dubbed her delusional, spoiled, arrogant, and worse), Dekker’s plans were put on ice during a year-long court case that – somewhat remarkably – ended in her favor. By the time preparations were complete and her 40-foot ketch Guppy made seaworthy, however, the youngster was already 15, and each passing day saw her draw closer in age to the current record holder. Time was of the essence.

Departing from Gibraltar on August 21st 2010, Dekker proceeded to sail 27,000 miles in 519 days and set the record, all the while keeping up with her schoolwork and writing weekly dispatches to European newspapers (neither activity, however, is depicted in the film). Though tempted to visit New Zealand along the way, she instead remained focused on her goal, settling for the symbolic replacement of her Dutch standard with a Kiwi one during a port-of-call in Darwin, Australia.

To call Dekker an intriguing character is understatement indeed. Headstrong and willful (perhaps the newspapers were on to something!), she initially misses her father, but as the trip continues her connections to family, friends and home fade into the distance. By film’s end, one suspects Laura could happily live a hermit-like existence afloat – that is, until a barely glimpsed boyfriend (?) named Bruno shows up at the last minute as she sets off on that long-delayed journey to New Zealand.

Directed by Jillian Schlesinger, Maidentrip is an all too brief documentary recording a remarkable personal odyssey. At 82 minutes in length (including credits), it’s a highly compressed travelogue that provides only the briefest of glimpses, for example, of Dekker’s stop-offs in the Galapagos Islands and French Polynesia. The adventure passes all too quickly for viewers, and perhaps also for our feisty heroine, who has since returned to the sea and apparently continues to spend most of her time there.

Culled primarily from footage shot by Dekker during her voyage, the film is an inspirational salute to a courageous young woman obsessively focused on her goal – and not at all interested in ever returning ‘home’ to the Netherlands, a country she regards with unconcealed contempt throughout the film. Ever the contrarian, Dekker has also since foresworn Maidentrip itself, stating on her website that “I am not going to say much about the film… but I won’t be representing it as I am not fully standing behind it.”

Note to parents: while Maidentrip is eminently suited for tween and teen viewers, you should be aware that Dekker wields a salty sailor’s tongue.

Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a weekly movie recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly. 

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Freelancer John Seal is Berkeleyside’s film critic. A movie connoisseur with a penchant for natty hats who lives in Oakland, John writes a weekly film recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as...