[21 January 2014]
PopMatters Film and TV Editor
Cows. The shot of cows in Maidentrip is a familiar sort, a herd of brown and black and white animals lying in a green-green pasture, viewed from a distance, a barn in the far background. The shot is also brief, one of several used to introduce Den Osse, the village in Zeeland, Netherlands, where Laura Dekker grew up. The others include images of boats, a long shot of the Den Osse harbor, a slightly closer shot of Laura’s own Hurley 800, which she’s named the Guppy, and then another of Laura and her father Dick, looking down on them as they work below deck, his back tanned and taut, her shorts pink.
Laura goes on to offer a tour of the 38-foot yacht, which is to say, she gestures toward the one room where she will be living for the 17 months of her voyage around the world: “This is just the table and where you live,” she says, “This will be my bed.” The camera is close on her back, necessarily, because the space is so tight. Her interest in this adventure has to do with her background, she explains, her father being a Dutch boat builder (“I grew up in a shipyard with my dad building boats,” she notes by way of explanation). Even getting to this point, the preparations, Laura has faced opposition. “In Holland, they try to stop her,” Dick says, wiping dishes alongside his daughter at the sink, “They try to break Laura down. But Laura is actually too strong, so it’s not strong enough.”
And with this, Maidentrip is done with the the 10 months of legal efforts to stop Laura Dekker from becoming the youngest person ever to circumnavigate the globe. What follows is a record of her 27,000-mile trip, begun in August 2010. Directed by Jillian Schlesinger and edited by Penelope Falk, the film constructs a story from Laura’s own footage, her views of the ocean and boat, her video-diary-like commentary, and also from her stops on land, where she meets assorted officials, shopkeeps, and fellow travelers.
For the first, Laura films and contemplates the world before her, the water, the wind, and the creatures. Laura’s experience and the film find expression repeatedly in what she films, in spectacular images of blue or dark skies, waves crashing or, more often, Laura’s announcement that a storm is coming and so she has to turn off the camera. On one level, such decisions leave off-screen the kinds of scenes you’ve seen in found-footagey fiction films, but on another, it lays out a more reasoned, intelligent, and practical approach to surviving a squall. Approaching the Cape of Storms (better known today as the Cape of Good Hope), Laura appears in night-vision-lens green frame, poised and determined as she tells her camera goodbye so she can pursue the business of the storm. A few moments later in the film, the sea is calm again, and she’s philosophical: “I wanted to know what it felt like to be on the sea and now I know.”
Being on the sea is not only being alone. Laura recounts a number of encounters, bits of punctuation on the business of sailing. Sometimes these moments are loosely metaphorical, visible indications of her internal state. Seeing dolphins alongside the Guppy near the start of her trip, Laura sniffles just a little and hopes they’ll “swim with me for a while, they’re a bit of company.” Months later, she encounters a gull on the deck. Whether it’s injured or seeking respite is unclear, but as she crouches near it, the camera positioned behind her, she turns to look back at you, noting, “I’m only speaking English to him because he probably doesn’t understand Dutch.”
It’s a joke that speaks to Laura’s evolving perception of the complex and arbitrary arrangements of nations on the globe: the meeting with the bird occurs some time after she’s decided to replace her Dutch flag with one representing New Zealand, her birthplace. She doesn’t take this decision lightly, thinking through what it means to be from somewhere, and to have a place to which she might return. “I don’t have a home,” she says, “Home to me is Guppy.”
Her search for a home—and her realization that home might be where and what she doesn’t expect—is a function of multiple factors, some of articulated, others hovering. Her parents divorced when she was young, and over the course of her voyage, during a stopover at St Maarten, she visits with her mother Babs Müller and Laura’s younger sister Kim (who, Laura notes, “grew up with my mother”). Noting, “They were on vacation when I left so they didn’t even wave me out,” Laura records them as they play with slingshots on a pier, a scene at once joyful and weighty: “I’m nuts, yeah,” smile Babs, “Or I wouldn’t have a daughter sailing around the world!”
Thankful and thrilled as they all may be for this reunion, Laura comes to understand herself in relation to her own family and her own sense of home, she discovers relationships with new friends. “People ask me,” she says, what she might miss from home. Working on her first pot of popcorn, the camera placed on a table to observe, she says she misses “having a bath that’s not salty and moving,” but as she got used to it after a coupe of weeks, “It’s really normal now.” Laura’s changing conception of what might be “normal”, either in her experience or someone else’s, finds a striking correlative in her engagement with Mike and Dina, a couple of sailors she meets in Panama. They bike and hike and eat together, their community heartfelt and shared.
And yet, Laura knows, “When you meet other sailors, you already know that someday you move in a different way. It’s like, normal. It’s just like that, everyone does that.” It doesn’t reduce the meaning of such an encounter, or the feelings that might be shared. It is, as Laura comes to see, a part of growing up, of becoming independent, to recognize connections. As Laura’s voiceover offers this meditation, the film shows her shadow-puppet birds against the wall of her cabin. “I have a really good friendship with my boat,” she says, “It’s my everything. And I hope that I have it for a long time.” As Maidentrip ensures that she will, it also helps her to share that process.