Since they were 11 and 12 years old respectively, Venus and Serena Williams have been profiled on film and television from their days as up and coming tennis prodigies to becoming two of the most dominant players of their generation. In America, they had their own reality show back in the early 2000’s along with being a part of numerous commercials.
Now they are front and center once again in a new documentary simply called “Venus and Serena” that goes behind the scenes of their lives on and off the court in 2011.The film debuts this week on iTunes and later in cinemas next month.
The film directed by Maiken Baird and Michelle Major, gives viewers a rare glimpse inside the day to day lives of the Williams Sisters and their family. It also shows both sisters dealing with near career-ending health issues — Venus when she was first diagnosed with Sjogren’s Syndrome and Serena after a foot injury suffered in a German nightclub that later led to complications including a near-fatal hematoma. Both women survived and returned back to the tour especially Serena who climbed back to No. 1 in the world while winning Wimbledon, the Olympics and the U.S. Open in the process last year.
Despite having their full cooperation during production, the sisters’s support of the film prior to its release has been a tenuous one. Late last year, reports surfaced that both were not happy with the way their father, Richard Williams, was depicted in the film. Their absence during the film’s premiere at the Toronto Film Festival was conspicuous and read as a sign of non-support. As most filmmakers will agree, not having your “stars” willing to do press before a film’s release can be potentially damaging to the project’s reputation and reception from the public.
But recently, perhaps because the film is out of their hands now so to speak, both sisters appeared to have changed their minds and, at least this week while they are competing at the Family Circle Cup in Charleston, are speaking in positive terms about the film.
“It was definitely a reminder of that year (2011) and that was a tough year for both of us because we both had injuries and so many issues so seeing that is motivating to see how much we’ve overcome and to just make us stronger,” said Venus Williams during a pre-event interview.
“I think that it was a great time in my life to capture,” said younger sister Serena Williams. “Just it was me, I wasn’t doing that great and I was just falling from grace so to say and you really see all the hard work that I tried to do. I had just won Stanford and Toronto and then I went to the Open. So you get to see a little bit of the history of me getting back to where am I now. So I thought it was cool.”
Though both their lives may seem to have already been fully captured on and off the court at least per the film’s trailer, “Venus and Serena” gives viewers deeper access to their everyday routines and more insight into their family as a whole.
Documentary filmmakers will be the first to admit that no one can really plan how a project will turn out and in some ways it’s exceptional that the directors were able to film the sisters during what was likely the most testing period of their lives. Despite their massive worldwide fame, both Williams sisters are still private in many ways, and to some still an enigma. If this film changes the perception of those who, though respecting their accomplishments on the court, have never really fully appreciated their impact on American society, remains to be seen.
When asked what she hoped viewers of the film would takeaway after watching it, Venus Williams said, “I think just the ability to stay strong and overcome.”
Staying strong and overcoming the odds are certainly two things both sisters are known for from their early days through today. “Venus and Serena” will hopefully allow us the chance to learn more about these two champions in a deeper way that only the power of film can provide.