Less than a month removed from the U.S. Women's National Team victory in the Women's World Cup, the documentary Maiden, which opens Friday at the Cedar Lee and the Capitol Theatre, chronicles another historic athletic feat by a team of women. It's the story of Tracy Edwards, a young woman in Britain who assembles an all-female crew for the Whitbread Around the World Race, a grueling, multi-leg, nine-month nautical marathon that pits the world's best sailing crews against each other every three years. In 1989, the voyage of "Maiden" was the first all-female crew in the race's history.
Directed by Alex Holmes (Stop at Nothing: The Lance Armstrong Story), the documentary consists almost exclusively of archival news footage from 1989-90 interspersed with interviews with the crew. The format produces a faithful chronology of events but can feel, at its driest, like a summary of the live coverage.
But for folks in their twenties and thirties, the Maiden voyage will be breaking news, and learning about this pivotal moment for gender equality in sports feels as relevant as ever.
The most interesting thematic territory, in fact, is the degree to which Edwards herself discovers the feminist significance of her feat. In one archival interview, she declares quite adamantly that she is not a feminist. She hates that word, she says. She's just out to prove that she should be able to do whatever she wants, regardless of her gender. In fact, all girls should. (She discerns retrospectively that this is a feminist position indeed. Through her courage and perseverance, she opened doors for girls all over the world.)
Though the middle of the doc begins to feel much like the race itself – monotonous – it is enlivened by reporters and competitors who admit to putting little stock in "the girls." Barroom bets were wagered on how far Maiden would make it. Most of the men assumed that the crew wouldn't even finish the first 30-day leg, from England to Uruguay. So when they start not only finishing but winning subsequent legs, there are moments of supreme validation. The finale is every bit as lovely and joyous and tearjerking as the nautical climax of Dunkirk.