This past year has been unusual in that there have been, by my count, five films released that focus on sailing and the sea. Even better, three are actually worth watching! The best two are a pair of documentaries that were created and released by independent filmmakers.
Maidentrip, directed by Jillian Schlesinger, follows Dutch teenager Laura Dekker as she successfully pursues her dream to become the youngest person to sail alone around the world. Though Laura’s voyage was controversial, as the Dutch government sought to block it, Schlesinger refuses to sensationalize the story and instead focuses on what the voyage meant to Laura. The driving force—more than the fine soundtrack and charming animated cartography—is Laura’s own voice. In it you can hear her growing up.
The film is also very true to ocean sailing. Though it paints a somewhat impressionistic portrait of our sport, it is quite accurate and is filled with small visual details that all sailors can relate to and that also make sailing accessible and comprehensible to laypeople.
Raw Faith, meanwhile, follows a sailing dream with a different trajectory. George McKay, an office-worker with no sailing experience, is well into his middle ages when he is struck with a fervent desire to go to sea in a bizarre mock-galleon. McKay’s family rallies around him as he constructs his ticky-tacky dream ship, but fall away one by one as it becomes obvious how unseaworthy and impractical it is. McKay ultimately is left alone with his fixation and ends up with nothing, as his beloved ship sinks and is lost on its first serious passage.
Produced by Gregory Roscoe and David Berez, the film is visually arresting, as the ersatz ship lends itself to dramatically framed shots. It is also dramatically paced, as much of the story concerns McKay’s battles with the Coast Guard and local harbormasters. I watched in slack-jawed amazement and was left with a fine appreciation of our government’s inability to prevent us from doing stupid things on boats.
The most anticipated sailing film of the past year, of course, was a major feature, All Is Lost, starring Robert Redford as an unnamed solo sailor who loses his Cal 39 in the Indian Ocean. Unfortunately, the film’s creators made no effort to make it at all realistic, and any sailor watching it is apt to feel insulted and annoyed.
Redford’s performance was hailed as Oscar-worthy, but all I saw was a man who looked confused and aggravated for an hour and a half. I had the exact same expression on my face the entire time I was watching him.
Another feature film I was looking forward to but was disappointed by was Kontiki, about Thor Heyerdahl’s famous raft voyage across the Pacific. Though the cinematography was great, the story was very slow and literally put me to sleep.
In the end, the one nautical feature film I enjoyed was Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks. You sure won’t be nodding off during his tense, well-made portrayal of a cargo-ship hijacking off Somalia. The only problem is there are no sailboats in it!