Maiden: Running Free, by David Bax
Tracy Edwards has gone on quite a journey in her life. More than one of them, actually. As a true self-made woman, she went from being the troubled daughter of a single mother to become an accomplished sailor, philanthropist and life coach. Then there’s the other journey, the one documented in Alex Holmes’ Maiden, in which a whole lot of hard work and a little bit of luck (including a fortutitous chance encounter with King Hussein of Jordan) took her on a boat race around the world with the sport’s first all-female crew. But perhaps the most important journey we see her undergo in the film is the one that leads her through the slings and arrows of the male-dominated world of endurance sailing to her realization, “Maybe I’m actually a feminist.”
Focusing mostly on Edwards, Holmes uses footage and interviews first to tell her life story up to the point when she decided to enter the Whitbread boat race around the world. From there, he brings in the perspectives of other members of the crew to build to a rousing, inspirational finish.
As was the bitter case with the women of Maiden, Edwards’ yacht, at the time, a large portion of Maiden‘s headspace is taken up with the patriarchal condescension that followed them literally around the entire planet. Snide uses of the word “girl” and the phrase “to a man” are just the surface. The most telling symptom of the disregard the women of Maiden faced comes in the form of expectations, be they the low ones that set the crew’s bar at the level of merely finishing a leg or those of the media who ask patronizing questions about whether the crew got along with each other. That’s after the women have already changed their outfits on approach to port so they arrive looking more feminine and presentable.
Maiden makes clear how sexist the team’s reception was simply by presenting footage, alongside recollections, of them at sea, without male sailors and journalist around to condescend to them. This juxtaposition exposes how ridiculous such treatment is by making plain that sailing is sailing, no matter who’s doing it. Hearing the women talk about the way that land smells proves that they’re as much old salts as the next man. And, as one of the crew soberingly points out, “The ocean is always trying to kill you. It doesn’t take sides.”
As helpful as such observations are, the lifeblood of Maiden is the impressively large amount of footage from on board the yacht. It’s not clear who shot it–perhaps the women took turns with the consumer camera they brought along–but the movie would be dry without it (pun intended).
As reflexive self-documentation becomes more and more common, this sort of footage-rich retelling of the past will be less rare. As it is, there’s so much of it in Maiden that it seems hard to justify the over-reliance on present day talking head interviews. Their constant commentary (with the perspective of hindsight) begins to feel a little like the use of “confessional” interviews in reality television and threatens to cheapen the film. Fortunately, the story of Maiden and of Maiden is too powerful and engrossing to be overcome by occasionally banal storytelling methods.