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'Maiden': Groundbreaking 1989 Sailing Race For All-Female Crew

Jun 28, 2019
Originally published on June 28, 2019 7:39 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

It is called the longest race on Earth - 33,000 miles around the globe by yacht. It's grueling. A new documentary called "Maiden" tells the story of the 1989 Whitbread round-the-world race.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "MAIDEN")

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: It was the most extreme, debilitating temperatures you've ever lived in; -20 with the windchill. That is really hard.

KING: MORNING EDITION and Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan has seen it. He's with me now.

Good morning, Ken.

KENNETH TURAN, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: So sailing - not the...

TURAN: (Laughter).

KING: ...Most popular sport in the world. Yachting is probably even more niche, and yet you found this movie really appealing.

TURAN: Yeah. Well, you know, I grew up in Brooklyn. You know, yachting is not in my past...

KING: (Laughter).

TURAN: ...You know? But this is a great, great human story. I mean, this was the first all-women's crew to go in this around-the-world race. The film shows how they put it together and what happened during the race. I've seen it more than once, and I was on the edge of my seat both times.

KING: You've seen it with more than once.

TURAN: Yeah. So I - you know, I know the ending, but I didn't - it didn't matter. I wanted to see it again.

KING: So great story is what you're saying. How is it told? This is a fairly conventional, standard-style documentary or does the filmmaker do something a little different?

TURAN: It's - it uses the conventional techniques of documentary but raised to the highest level imaginable. There's footage taken on the boat at the time by one of the crew members, so you can actually see these women running the boat. But the best part is that today, they interview almost everyone who was on the boat, including Tracy Edwards, who was the skipper. Now we see them decades later looking back, telling what the experience was like. We see the men who were disbelieving, who were scoffers. They look back on what they were thinking then. It's amazing to see people reflecting today on the reality we also see.

KING: Ken, one of the really interesting things about this race was not just that it was led by a woman skipper with an all-female crew but that everyone else was a man. They seemed to be fine looking down on these women.

TURAN: The only word I can use about the sexism of the men is that it was just so primitive. It just infuriated the women that they were not taken seriously, that the media only asked them questions about their makeup. They never got asked sailing questions. I mean, the whole thing is just kind of beyond belief, but it just kind of made them more determined. They said, we love this. We are doing this not to prove a point. We're doing it because we love sailing. We want to be able to do it. Get out of our way.

KING: I was watching the trailer earlier. And some of the footage really is incredible - just the flinty look in the women's...

TURAN: (Laughter).

KING: ...Eyes back in 1989 - like, it is extraordinary to see them. You know, this race took place in 1989, so we're 30 years out from it. Does it still feel relevant?

TURAN: Oh, absolutely. You know, first of all, you know, as - doesn't even need to be said. There are constant workplace issues, women not taken seriously. This is still an issue around the world. But, really, I mean, the thing about this film is that it transcends any way of looking at it as kind of relevance because it's such an amazing story. It transports you so much. You know, there's a way that this film reminds me about "RBG," which was a documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which was extremely popular. And it was popular in red states as well as blue states because this was not just a portrait of a liberal justice. This was a great human story - a story of achievement, of humanity, just a kind of story that you really want to watch because it involves you so greatly and so deeply. I mean, you will be flattened by the time it ends. You will just be floored.

KING: The movie is called "Maiden," and it's in theaters today. Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times.

Ken, thanks so much.

TURAN: Oh, thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF BON JOVI SONG, "WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.