Description from TIFF 2012 catalog by Thom Powers:
Ever since Venus and Serena Williams started playing in tennis tournaments, they’ve provoked strong reactions, from awe and admiration to suspicion and resentment. They’ve been winning championships for over a decade, pushing the limits of longevity in such a demanding sport. How long can they last? In Venus and Serena, we gain unprecedented access into their lives during the most intimidating year of their careers. Over the course of 2011, Venus grappled with an energy-sapping autoimmune disease while Serena battled back from a life-threatening pulmonary embolism. Neither Venus nor Serena let their adversities hold them back. They draw their greatest strength from each other.
Directors Maiken Baird and Michelle Major attain a privileged intimacy with the sisters, and their inner circle of family members, trainers and friends, as they fight to get back on top. Baird and Major have a great rapport with Venus and Serena, eliciting lively interviews sprinkled with humor and gossip, while also delivering deep insight into their relentless work ethic. In a white-dominated sport, the Williams stand out as African-Americans from Compton, California, who sometimes appear aloof from the tennis world. They’re further set apart by the unorthodox training regime of their father, Richard Williams, who never had formal tennis lessons. This film lets us peer inside their complicated family circle that includes Richard and his new wife; their mother Oracene Price; and several siblings.
Set against the 2011 and 2012 tennis seasons, the family reflects back on their history of breaking barriers and defying odds. The film doesn’t shy away from inquiring into delicate and sometimes controversial areas of the sisters’ personal and professional lives. Baird and Major interview other long-time observers of the Williams sisters — including John McEnroe, Chris Rock, President Bill Clinton, Anna Wintour, and Gay Talese — who bring fresh perspectives on what Venus and Serena have achieved both on and off the tennis court. Whatever opinion you hold of the Williams sisters, you’ll come away with a deeper appreciation of what drives them to greatness.