Winner of the 2013 SXSW audience choice award, “Maidentrip” is also a study in collaboration between filmmaker and subject. Laura Dekker herself was instrumental in the film’s production, shooting her own footage at sea, and shaping the final narrative.
The story begins in 2009, when Laura is ensnared in a messy legal battle with Dutch authorities that attempt to stop her trip. She also becomes the subject of harsh media scrutiny, and is portrayed as deranged and spoiled. After a year, Laura is free to set sail aboard her forty-foot ship, Guppy, to pursue her dream.
Life at sea is not easy. Laura is a skilled sailor, but her travels across three oceans are long, often lonely, and sometimes treacherous. Candid shots of Laura are interspersed with scenes of the open sea, intimate voiceovers, and a soundscape that places the viewer in the belly of the boat right alongside Laura. The results are striking. We witness Laura’s exhilaration while riding out a storm, her wistful gratitude for the company of dolphins, and her discovery that she enjoys the solitude that only the ocean can provide.
At its core, “Maidentrip” is a coming-of-age story about a teenager trying to find her way in the world. Laura travels the sometimes frustrating path of following your passion, even when it means leaving behind those you love, or pushing on in the face of doubt. In the end, Laura is more confident of her place in the world for having circled it.
NM: What inspired you to make this film?
JS: I was intrigued by Laura’s story from the start, when I read an op-ed about her in the New York Times in 2009. There were so many different opinions about her in the media, but I didn’t see her point of view represented anywhere. So I reached out to her because I wanted to work with her to tell her own story.
NM: It’s pretty clear in the film that Laura doesn’t like media attention or reporters. How were you able to collaborate and gain access to Laura’s personal life?
JS: Laura was actively involved in every stage of the process; that is part of what worked so well about making the film. Everyone on the crew treated her as a collaborator, as much as a subject. Everything shot at sea was shot by Laura alone. We never said what to film, or how often – it was totally self-directed.
For the voiceovers, we didn’t do sit down interviews. We gave her a recorder and we gave her topics to focus on, but she recorded them by herself, both in port and at sea. Media coverage is so hard because you’re asked lots of questions and you have to respond on the spot. When you sit alone and think about what you want to say and collect your thoughts, you can be more open and introspective.
JS: Yes, I met Laura twice in Holland before she left and then at seven ports during her voyage, sometimes on my own or with a cinematographer. That went on for about a year and a half. It was more like being on an adventure with a friend than following a subject, and it was always with a very small crew.
NM: I found the sound design and score in the film quite powerful; the music highlights the moods in the film subtly but effectively, and the use of ambient sound adds a rich layer to the experience. Could you speak about those elements?
JS: We had Laura capture sound at sea, too. It was important that the sound be as much of a focus as the visuals. I wanted the film to be as experiential as possible, to capture the sites and sounds of what it’s like to be at sea, to be transported to this other world, and see it through Laura’s eyes.
For the music, we worked with composer Ben Sollee, who was open to experimentation with different instruments and using traditional instruments in unusual ways. We wanted the music to have the same spirit of freedom and adventure as the film itself, so some music was improvised on the spot.
NM: Can you discuss the editing process? How did you balance Laura’s personal story with the narrative that you wanted to tell about her? Whose story is it in the end?
JS: Laura came to New York and slept on my couch for a month to help us get a solid cut of the film. Our editor, Penelope Falk, was looking for what would make a great film, and Laura wanted to make sure that her story, her truth, came through. We first cut the physical journey – the significant events in the story – and then we interwove the emotional story. I think the end result is a film that is really true to Laura’s emotional and physical experience, and is also something people can connect with and feel inspired by.
“Maidentrip” will screen at Hot Docs in Toronto, Canada, April 28 and 30, and May 5, 2013. View a clip on Vimeo and learn more at www.maidentrip.com.