The AFI DOCS Interview: MAIDEN With Director Alex Holmes – American Film Institute

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The AFI DOCS Interview: MAIDEN With Director Alex Holmes

Alex Holmes’ MAIDEN follows Tracy Edwards, a 24-year-old skipper who led the first all-women crew to compete in the Whitbread Round the World Race, shattering records — and glass ceilings — along their 167-day, 32,018-mile voyage.  We spoke to director Alex Holmes about the film.

MAIDEN plays as part of the Portrait program at AFI DOCS at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, MD on Friday, June 21. Buy tickets to the screening here.

AFI spoke with Holmes about the making of the documentary.

AFI: What led you to pursue documentary filmmaking?

I have always had a fascination with people, a love of the truth and a desire to change the world. 

AFI: How did you become interested in Tracy Edwards’ story?

My youngest daughter was leaving elementary school and parents were invited to a celebration to mark the occasion. That year the school decided to branch out from the usual form of certificate giving and communal singing and invited a guest speaker. She was Tracy Edwards, skipper of the first all-women crew to take part in the Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race in 1989, and the central character in MAIDEN.

As I listened to her tell her story to this group of 11 year-old boys and girls, I was struck by three things: first, she had an amazing story of determination and the value of following your dreams no matter what obstacles are put in your way; second, how she was an inspiring character both to me and to the assembled girls and boys, and third, I was shocked to realize that, while I never felt like I had needed to encourage my son to aim for the stars when it came to his ambitions, I still felt I needed to remind my daughters that they shouldn’t let the views of the world around them limit their potential. And this was almost thirty years after Tracy was breaking down barriers of chauvinism and sexism. I knew as soon as she finished speaking that it was a story I had to tell.

AFI: How did you end up connecting with Tracy to be a part of the film?

I approached Tracy at the end of the evening and asked her if her story had ever been made into a film. That was when she told me that they had a camera the whole entire time and had filmed much of the race from on board the boat. And so began a three- year search to track down the archive the crew had shot.

AFI: What was a particular obstacle you faced while making the film? 

Every filmmaker who works with archival footage dreams of finding a single treasure trove of material, a box of pristine rushes perfectly labeled and catalogued. We had no such luck! The footage existed as copies of copies on every format imaginable. Decaying tapes were dug out from people’s lofts, the back of parents’ cupboards and obscure archives all around the world. We then had to piece together this enormous jigsaw, working out which piece fit where—not an easy task when so much of the images were of the sea.

AFI: What do you want audiences to walk away with after watching MAIDEN?

I want audiences to walk away with the renewed belief that, if you are fearless and determined, then dreams can become a reality—no matter what obstacles we face.

AFI: Why is Washington, DC a valuable location to screen this film?

This is not really a film about sailing. It’s a film about freedom, about family and, above all, about equality. I want to shine a light on the fact that while much has changed in the world since Tracy set off on the voyage of a lifetime all those years ago, deep down much remains the same. Half of the world still faces an uphill struggle to realize their full potential and as a result we all are reduced. The entire human race benefits when we level the playing field and open up opportunity to all, regardless of gender, ethnicity or belief. Where better to shine that light than Washington DC and share Tracy’s story with communities who have the power to make a difference?   

AFI: Why do you think documentary films are important today?

In a world of fake news, we all crave the open-minded, the authentic and the honest. These values are the hallmarks of documentary, and, with these values, a small film can make a big difference.

Buy tickets to MAIDEN here.

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