Maiden (Alex Holmes) 3 out of 4 stars.
We’re living in an era of film that ushers in both the documentary as a genre and the experiences of women as narrative focal points. Alex Holmes’ Maiden sets out for both and, much like its subjects, it succeeds. Made up of a combination of archival footage and present-day interviews, Maiden takes a look back at the 1989 Whitbread Round the World sailing race where a young Tracy Edwards led the first all-women sailing crew. As it shows the journey of someone so set on breaking through what seems to be an impossible wall, Maiden observes the depths of the human spirit and proves that there is no gender monopoly on sports.
Everything in Maiden feels like fate. It quickly becomes clear that Tracy Edwards is the stuff of documentary dreams. As the film steers through her life, we are able to glance at her journey through a myriad of different identities. She is a troubled daughter before a student, a traveler before a cook, and a sailor before an icon. And perhaps what’s most interesting and what gets to the very soul of this film are the shifting identities she takes upon herself in reaction to these as we observe her transition from a woman who merely wants herself and other women to be able to sail and a woman who is determined to change the fabric of the sport forever.
It may even be that Edwards is a subject so worthy of a film that the film can occasionally seem unworthy of her. While the assemblage of footage undeniably wins over the heart, the style of the documentary can feel overly conventional for the entirely unconventional subject it’s portraying. Nevertheless, the way the filmmakers pace and move through the story has the perfect arc of a narrative film which creates a certain level of connection between the audience and the subject and also often subverts standard expectations. The talking heads storytelling in this is also impressively filled with a tremendous amount of openness and emotion. And, of course, the archival footage is complete gold. I probably spent half the documentary in awe that they were able to recover so much relevant and stirring footage. Not only does it give the documentary a specific and unique feel, it allows viewers to live completely in the turbulent and triumphant world of its characters.
While it felt as though the ending could have been edited down a bit, everything that these women work for pays off in the most fulfilling and uplifting way possible. Maiden is filled with an abundance of striking visual images that highlight the sailors at the center of it as the daring, determined, intelligent and flawed women that they are. Not only does it understand the romantic and terrifying beauty of the ocean itself, but the beauty of human will as well.