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When All is Lost, Youngsters Keep it Real

by Kurt Hoehne

dekker1All is Lost was the sailing movie that was supposed to, finally, captivate mainstream moviegoers. The film swamped and wallowed, through no fault of its single-member cast of Robert Redford. Its problems were too many to mention here and well chronicled by amateur movie critics all over the Internet. For me, the problem was simple and sadly commonplace when it comes to portraying sailing, the directors thought they needed to make stuff up that wouldn’t/couldn’t happen.

There’s plenty of adventure and intrigue in the reality of sailing. But of course moviemakers don’t succeed by just showing reality. Right?Schlesinger

There have been plenty of other sailing movie capsizes, notably Waterworld and Wind. Chances are, bigger doses of reality could have helped both of those films.

dekker2Even Yann Martel’s literary novel and the subsequent movie The Life of Pi needed to embellish the plight of a shipwrecked man by making him share a lifeboat with a tiger (or was it?).

Can reality work as a movie? Enter the spin doctors. . .

Remember Abby Sunderland, who very publicly tried to become the youngest person to ever sail around the world? She chose the wrong time of year and wrong boat in which to do it, but for some weeks the press was all over it, especially when it came to her mid-ocean rescue. There’s a movie of course. Here’s the script from the trailer (imagine a deep, serious, male voice and appropriate scary footage):


Have you ever been afraid of the dark? 2000 miles from nowhere, 16 years old and alone. You’ve battled Cape Horn, the Cape of Good Hope and monstrous storms. Then your world is turned upside down by a 60’ rogue wave. Every decision you make determines whether you will live or die.

(Abby Sunderland talking) “I’m in the exact middle of the Indian Ocean. I don’t know if anybody can get out to where I am.” 

It’s been called the most inspirational true story ever told. Redefining the meaning of adventure, faith and courage. Wild Eyes, the Abby Sunderland Story. Available at worldwindproductions.com.

(dramatic pause)

When your rogue wave comes, how will you survive?


Oy Vey.dekker3

But along comes the documentary movie Maidentrip and Laura Dekker, who sailed around the world beginning at age 14. The film has already brought success and critical acclaim to director Jillian Schlesinger and her co-producer Emily McAllister. It’s even brought controversy in the form of Laura Dekker herself saying on her web site “I am not going to say much about the film Maidentrip, but I won’t be representing it as I am not fully standing behind it.”

More than one wonderful film has been made without the subject’s complete approval.

Here’s the tone of Maidentrip‘s trailer:


Others sail non-stop around the world. I just wouldn’t want to do that because you’d see so little of the world.


For me, the best measure was my 12-year-old niece Cami. I enticed her to come with my wife and me to a screening of Maidentrip, and stole occasional glances at her while she was watching. Even though Cami hasn’t done much sailing, and has a 12-year-old’s reticence about getting too enthusiastic about anything, it grabbed her attention most of the time. Only a couple times did I sense a “this is boring” foot tapping next to me.

Maidentrip had a whole lot more Robin Lee Graham than Abby Sunderland about it. Remember Graham, who went to sea a 16-year-old-boy and returned a married man? Many of us pounced on the National Geographics in which his story was told in the late 1960s and early 1970s. What made those articles great was that it all felt genuine.

Maidentrip feels genuine. Dekker doesn’t give the impression this is a publicity stunt, from the choice of boat to her closeness to her father to her route. One gets the idea she would have done the trip with or without the attention. Seemingly, at least so far, she hasn’t tried to parlay her fame into fortune.

Schlesinger’s storytelling skill is apparent throughout. It flows, cutting back to relevant bits of history at the right times. The animated transitions showing Dekker’s track are charming and really give a sense of progress all along.

The documentary ventures into areas that probably left a few hurt feelings. Thankfully, the content wasn’t sanitized for family and friends’ feelings. Real emotion is apparent throughout, from boredom to depression to anger. And language wasn’t sanitized for younger audiences. Dekker not only sails like a sailor, she occasionally talks like one too.

There are no collisions, sinkings or shark attacks. Pirates are only mentioned in passing. There are storms, but Dekker handles them with little fuss. Yet, somehow, watching a 14-year-old sail around the world keeps the audience riveted. Even the 12-year-olds.

Dekker is a star. Despite her reticence regarding the public spotlight, with this film she has allowed us into her young life and emotions. She matures during her 500+ day voyage, adding to her courage and strength and confidence all along. She left Holland a girl and finished a young woman. It wouldn’t surprise me if, like Graham, Dekker disappears for a while. Or at least quietly keeps the spotlight at arms length. It would surprise me if she headed inland and away from sailing as Graham did.

Time will tell, but it may have planted a seed in Cami’s outlook on life. Not that she should go sailing, but just know that, like Dekker, she can do IT, whatever IT is. It’ll be hard, it can be lonely, but choosing one’s own path and making it happen are key to becoming a strong and happy young woman.

The film is not for everybody, there are some critical gaps in the story and it probably isn’t a “great” movie. There’s a lot of bouncy onboard footage and occasionally uninspiring narration by Dekker. But it was real.

Growing up and sailing across oceans have something in common. They’re more challenging and exciting than fighting off sharks. And waaaaay more real, say, than running into a semi-submerged container forcefully enough to hole a hull aft of the beam, on a glassy sea, without waking up until there’s water sloshing around. Yes, that’s what the director had poor Robert Redford portray in All is Lost.dekkermountain

With Maidentrip setting the reality tone, we can nurture some hope for the True Spirit movie about Jessica Watson’s circumnavigation. Watson was 16 when she circumnavigated amid mind-boggling press coverage in Australia, and her name now sits next to John (America’s Cup) Bertrand in the annals of Aussie sailing heroes. “Hero” might not cover it.

True Spirit will be the feature film of Watson’s story, complete with actors and a full-on production crew. It also has Jessica Watson watching over every bit, and already she’s insisted on several script rewrites. She explains, “It’s really important because, at first I was kind of like ‘I’ll be happy with whatever they do with it because they are the experts’, but I realized as it went along that it has to be accurate to sailing.”

We know what you mean, Jessica. Good luck convincing non-sailors to stick to your script.

For showing dates, visit: http://firstrunfeatures.com/maidentrip_playdates.html




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