It starts with a warning: “The ocean’s always trying to kill you, it doesn’t take a break.” But the terrors awaiting the subjects of Alex Holmes’ crowd-pleasing documentary “Maiden” go far beyond the sea itself. Tracing the journey of forward-thinking female sailor Tracy Edwards, “Maiden” unspools a heart-pounding race around the world, but the true challenges facing Edwards and her all-woman crew include institutionalized sexism, a media circus unable to look beyond a splashy story, and crushing self-doubt.
It’s a timely and relevant story about bold women breaking down barriers while some of their male counterparts go through the motions — dismissing them, gawking at them, not believing them, and finally, begrudgingly, letting them in. That it’s set mostly in the late-’80s doesn’t diminish its relevance one bit.
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Holmes, best known for his 2014 documentary “Stop at Nothing: The Lance Armstrong Story,” is in familiar waters with “Maiden,” though the film is aided by the addition of a likable star, the fiercely independent Edwards, who anchors a series of talking head interviews with all the major players. Edwards is intriguing enough to watch tell her story, but she’s also joined by some of her former crew members, who are just as engaging as their former captain, and clearly with more stories to tell. Each one of them could presumably star in her own documentary, and “Maiden” only examines just one story from an experience that changed the lives of many of its subjects.
The director assembled a wealth of sources for the documentary, from footage shot during the film’s central sailing race, to archival news video that provides an occasionally maddening look at the media coverage surrounding Edwards and her 1989 journey. Introduced as a headstrong and shiftless young woman who ran away from home and ended up in the boating world by seemingly dumb luck, “Maiden” sacrifices some biographical clarity about its leading lady in service to getting to the main story: how a 24-year-old novice ended up skippering a yacht on the world’s longest (and arguably most challenging) sailing race, surrounded entirely by fellow women.
Spend enough time with Edwards, though, and it’s clear that she’s the kind of person who can make things happen just by sheer …read more