Citizen Jane documentary ‘Maidentrip’ offers fresh perspective

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Madi Mertz

The showing of "Maidentrip" at the Missouri Theater on Saturday, Oct. 5. Photo by Madi Mertz
The showing of “Maidentrip” at the Missouri Theater on Saturday, Oct. 5. Photo by Madi Mertz

The opening film of the Citizen Jane Film Festival, “Maiden Trip”, was shown at the Missouri Theatre last night at 7:30pm. The documentary, which was about the youngest person to sail around the world, featured a 14-year-old Dutch girl named Laura Dekker.  The film was followed by a question-and-answer session with the filmmaker, Jillian Schlesinger.

It would be almost too easy to make this film primarily about the Dekker, her sailing, her daily routine and her loneliness on her little boat, “Guppy”.  Instead, the documentary paints the picture of a fiercely independent girl, born and raised on sailing, who never wanted to do anything else with her life. Her blunt sense of humor and her willingness to be a goof in front of the camera only add to her story.

What sets “Maiden Trip” apart is the presence of video recorded by Dekker herself during her two-year trip all around the world.  This footage frames the story line, and is interspersed with background information about herself and her family and beautiful animated watercolor maps of where she was sailing at the time.

As Dekker sails, her determination to live her dream to become the youngest person to ever sail around the world keeps the audience inspired and entertained.  In addition, she makes stops at such ports as St. Martin, Darwin, Australia, and the Cape of Good Hope, keeping herself inspired and entertained.

What shines through about Dekker is that this journey is not about the fame. In fact, she becomes weary and borderline rude toward the press.  She was born on a boat in New Zealand and grew up working on boats and sailing with her dad. She wanted nothing more than to be at sea.

As a child of divorce, Dekker chooses to live with her father simply because she wants to sail,  since her mother is not a huge fan of the sport. Dekker sails throughout her life in little boats her father made or repaired, such as Guppy. She keeps paper charts in addition to her computer and her trip is mapped out to avoid as much bad weather and bad company as possible, including Somali pirates.

This determination and depth of knowledge makes it easy to forget just how young Dekker really is.  While on the boat, she turns 15, then 16, slowly growing up before the camera.  One scene takes place when Dekker is crossing the equator.  She shows the camera that she has put on a “Neptune Crown” and made a pancake for Neptune, on which big sharpie letters read “To Neptune From Guppy.”  She plays Cool and the Gang’s “Celebration” over her radio with other boats just behind her.  By the glow of the night vision light on her camera, she has a celebration similar to New Year’s Eve and throws the pancake overboard.  The little sparks of her personality that show through in moments like this make her more human, and not just the name on a world record.

Jillian Schlesinger  tells the story in such a way as to allow the audience to feel as if they get to know Dekker and watch her grow as her journey progresses.  At times, the audience can even get to feel like characters, interviewed and manipulated in front of the camera.  Because of how recent Dekker’s trip was (she landed in St. Martin in 2012) and her personal footage, she feels like a real person up in front, talking to the audience.

Overall, “Maiden Trip” is a fantastic documentary, showing all facets of Dekker’s personality in turn and keeping the audience engaged throughout what could have easily become an extremely boring story. As Schlesinger herself said, “the film plays very much like a home movie.”

Schlesinger said the film has found a distributor, and will be in theaters next year.  And there is no reason not to see it. Seeing the face and the girl behind the name is so worth it.  During her trip, a Dutch reporter points out to Dekker that she could be in history books some day, but Dekker doesn’t care at all about that. She just wants to sail, and sail she does.
By Madi Mertz