MAIDEN tells uplifting story of Tracy Edwards and her pursuit of leading an all woman crew on an around the world yacht race on board the ship of the same name back in 1989 - the first such voyage. Director Alex Holmes' interviews the magnetic Edwards and much of her crew (and some of her opponents and detractors) in depicting the tale of the runaway British teenager who somehow stumbled in the world of competitive sailing. While hanging out on the sailing circuit, Edwards fell in love with it and talked her way aboard a racing ship in the mid-80s - as a cook to an all-male crew. Along the way, she befriended King Hussein of Jordan, who would later provide crucial financing for her own 1989 crew.
Holmes has made a fairly standard Doc. Interviews inter-cut with clips. Unfortunately, his decision to crop and stretch the mostly videotape period footage to full-screen makes the already degraded images look even worse than necessary. Oddly, the 8mm home movie footage IS shown in the proper aspect ratio (hardly the first example of doing this - But, why is old film sacred, but, it's ok to stretch TV news video?). The effect is to make the VHS stuff look extremely blurry and washed out. Obviously, you use what you have access to*, but, by stretching and zooming in it makes it look like it all happened even longer ago than it did. More fundamentally, Holmes does a mediocre, at best, job of giving the viewer all the necessary information about the Whitbread Round the World Race that is the centerpiece. One has to piece together how long it is, how many legs, what the rules are, the different classes etc.. How did a cook become a world class navigator? The movie doesn't even bother to explain who King Hussein was - and, I wager that for most folks under 50, when they hear "Hussein" they think of Saddam or Obama's middle name. Heck, you have to be an eagle-eyed end credits watcher to even note that Edwards has been awarded an MBE. Such fundamental questions and quite a few others are curiously never explained, nor even brought up. There is also no customary end of the movie on screen crawl updating what Edwards et. al. have been doing since (Edwards attempted another around the world trip with an all woman crew in 1998). Of course, not every Documentary has to follow the traditional format (although it does in most ways), but it leaves the movie seemingly curiously incomplete.
MAIDEN is a great story told in an indifferent manner. It's worth seeing for the subject matter if nothing else (also, because it's visually so insufficient, it's hard to recommend it on the big screen; it will look better at home). Still, the images of this crew of women seen in tandem with those of the U.S. Women's World Cup soccer team is stirring. The constant use of the word "girls" when describing the women even in the contemporary interviews shows how all is still not equal (and, the vintage newscast commentary is a whole other level). One step at a time. One sail at a time.
* Surprisingly, there doesn't seem to be any 16mm footage included of the voyage itself. Hard to believe than no TV channels, Networks or filmmakers didn't film at least part of the race. It's all presented on videotape (some shot by the crew itself) and photographs (which look fine). It also doesn't look like there was much digital clean-up done of the taped segments (probably a budget consideration). It's too bad. With such great scenery on the open seas to behold, it's mainly an eyestrain.