Venus and Serena Williams are not only the most successful sisters in tennis, they're also amongst the most successful athletes ever. In Maiken Baird and Michelle Major's revealing documentary, the highs (gold at the London Olympics) and lows (injury and illness) on and off the court are captured over an eventful year.
Michelle Major arrived in Melbourne overnight and answered a few questions for MIFF ahead of the film's first screening:
How did you get the opportunity to document the notorious sister athletes?
Co-director Maiken Baird and I brought the idea to the sisters' agent in 2007 and it then took us three and a half years of back and forth with them before they considered it seriously. It was basically a great deal of perseverance on our part, and then when we finally got to meet with Venus in 2010, she green lit the project.
How would you sum up the similarities and differences in their personalities?
Venus is the classic older sister, willing to sacrifice herself for her younger sister, and Serena the classic youngest sister – always fighting to be number one.
Did they both respond to the filming process in the same way?
Serena was more at ease with being followed. Venus seemed less comfortable with the process, but I think it was largely because at that time she didn't know she had an auto-immune disease and was perhaps a little worried that people would find out she was ill before she herself had a handle on it.
Where else has the film screened and what has been the response to the film overall?
The film has screened around the world and has been really well received.
Melbourne is a city that loves tennis. What kind of insight does the film shed on tennis culture?
There are two types of tennis players – those who are accepted as insiders and those who are treated as outsiders. As an outsider, it is tough to break into the world of professional tennis and to hold your position for any length of time, even when you are an exceptional player. The key to a long-lived successful career for those who are considered outsiders is an undying mental toughness.
Venus and Serena is screening on the following dates:
Michelle Major will also join American snowboarding star Kevin Pearce (The Crash Reel) and Australian surfing legend Wayne Lynch (Uncharted Waters), plus Uncharted Waters director Craig Griffin, along with sports writer Tony Wilson, in our Talking Pictures event Beyond the Match, Beyond the Montage – Sports Storytelling on Film. They'll be discussing how sports storytelling works on film, how to capture the tales of real athletes, and avoiding one too many triumphant montages in the making.
Pictured above: Venus and Serena Williams, in scenes from the film.