Friday, April 5, 2013

New Documentary 'Venus and Serena' Reveals Extraordinary Background Story Of Legendary Tennis Icons


As I have stated many times in the past my two favorite athletes on this planet are Venus and Serena Williams.  This new documentary will help explain why...Check it out...


Magnolia Pictures Will Release 'Venus And Serena' Doc In Theaters In May  (VOD In April)

Venus and Serena Official Trailer #1 - Williams Sisters Documentary Movie HD:

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 & Serena, we gain unprecedented access into their lives during the most intimidating year of their career. 

Today, Moviefone is happy to give you an exclusive first look at the poster for "Venus and Serena."

Check out the poster below, and catch the film on iTunes April 4 and in theaters on May 10.

Magnolia Pictures will release Venus And Serena (the feature documentary directed and produced by Maiken Baird and Michelle Major) in theatres on May 10 (VOD a month before on April 4).

The film takes an unfiltered look into the remarkable lives of the greatest sister-act professional tennis has ever seen. In a sport where they were not welcomed, the indomitable Williams sisters faced the opposition with grace and courage not only breaking new ground for female and African American athletes everywhere, but dominating the women's game for over a decade.

The film includes interviews with Bill Clinton, Billie Jean King, John McEnroe, Arnon Milchan, Gay Talese, Anna Wintour among others.

By the way, long-time Spike Lee editor Sam Pollard (and director of the 2012 PBS documentary 'Slavery By Another Name)', cut this Williams sisters doc as well.

Venus and Serena Official Trailer #1 - Williams Sisters Documentary Movie HD


(Photo: Christopher Hanewinckel, USA TODAY Sports)

'Venus and Serena': Documentary goes inside their lives
Douglas Robson

April 3, 2013

"Venus and Serena" will debut on iTunes on Thursday and hit theaters on May 10

It would have been a tough sell in Hollywood: An eccentric father with no tennis background somehow plotting and predicting that his two youngest daughters, African-American sisters just 15 months apart, would rise from the Southern California ghetto and sit atop the once lily-white tennis world.

Perhaps Venus and Serena Williams have been so good for so long we forget how they got here.

But what is arguably the greatest story in modern sports will soon be retold for a mass audience.

Venus and Serena, a new documentary, will debut on iTunes on Thursday and hit theaters on May 10.

The film follows the sisters during their turbulent 2011 season in which Serena returned from an 11-month absence from blood clots and surgery for a hematoma and Venus discovered she suffers from the autoimmune disease Sjogren's syndrome.

Though it was one of only three years since 1999 that neither sister won a major in singles, Serena called it "great timing."

"You get to see me when I really wasn't doing great, struggling, giving myself my medicine," she said by phone from Charleston, S.C., where she is competing this week. "You can really see the story of how far I'm able to come."

Both have rebounded. Serena, 31, is again atop the rankings at No. 1, and Venus, 32, captured a third gold medal in doubles at last year's London Olympics.

The filmmakers, ABC news veterans Michelle Major and Maiken Baird, became fascinated with the sisters when they broke onto the national stage in the 1990s.

"It's an obvious topic because they are two incredible women who changed a sport," said Major, who with Baird recorded 450 hours of footage.

"They broke just about every barrier as African-American sisters when they became number one and number two in the world in tennis," wrote Baird in an email. "It's the great American story rich with sisterhood, family, race, hard work and tenaciousness."

Serena and Venus Williams in 1997 at the Eastbourne fro the Direct Line Ladies Tennis Championships

For those familiar with the Williams story, the film doesn't break much new ground. What it does do is piece together their long, extraordinary journey from the streets of Compton, Calif., to winning a combined 22 major singles titles and becoming the first sisters to occupy the top two spots in tennis simultaneously.

"There were all these claims out there, and we really wanted to get to the bottom and tell people the details of their story," Major said in a phone interview last week.

The film shows intimate scenes with the sisters, their family and close associates at home, in hotels and at tournaments.

Serena is shown injecting herself with blood thinner and wearing the drainage bag she called "Grover" attached to her stomach following hematoma surgery.

She jokes with and chastises her hitting partner, Sascha Bajin; engages in pole dancing aerobics; and jumps onto the court in a downpour and dances around like a giddy child.

She explains her multiple personalities and says pointedly: "I was determined not to become a statistic. That's the only reason I play tennis."

The filmmakers catch Venus making the difficult behind-the-scenes decision to withdraw from the 2011 U.S. Open due to the energy-sapping illness Sjogren's.

Both sisters are shown singing karaoke, discussing marriage, and lovingly interacting at home and at tournaments.

"People can see our dynamic," Serena said. "It's kind of a real insight on our life."

Some of the most compelling shots are the early footage of the sisters doing drills with their father, driving around in a beat-up Volkswagen minibus, and being interviewed as young children.

An interviewer asks a 10- or 11-year-old Venus what her toughest match is. "Probably against my sister," she says. Asked what it was like, she pauses, takes a deep breath and responds: "Horrible."

A pre-teen Serena tells one questioner that the player she'd most like to be is the volatile John McEnroe.

Richard says he wrote a 78-page manifesto before the girls were born mapping out their route to the top of the tennis world.

A present-day Venus says: "My parents told me I'd be No. 1 in the world. I was brainwashed."
Venus and Serena Williams at a party for the 2012 Wimbledon tournament(Photo: Joel Ryan AP)
Major denied reports that the sisters withdrew their support after seeing a rough cut of the film and failing to show up for a scheduled appearance at the world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last September.

The Los Angeles Times said the family was unhappy with the depiction of Richard Williams.

"Throughout filming there were always communication issues and always us trying to get more," said Major, adding that there was "stickiness" around the timing of the festival and that Venus wanted more in-depth coverage of Sjogren's syndrome and her off-court activities.

She said that the fiercely guarded sisters might not have been ready to see themselves on screen in front of a live audience in a film that depicts "the complications of a family that's human."

"They fully support the film," Major said.

Serena confirmed that view Wednesday, saying she and Venus missed the festival due to scheduling conflicts but backed the film.

"Me and Venus were laughing over it," she said of the media reports.

Major said reaching an agreement took three years and was the "the most difficult thing I've ever done."

"I don't think anyone had the tenacity that we did to keep on going back and finding connections and finding reasons why we should film," she said.

According to Major, the sisters were paid for their time as well as for old photos and video footage. She described it as a "stipend."

Asked if they also would benefit from any commercial success, Major declined to elaborate.

The filmmakers had "full editorial control" and agreed to show the family a cut of the film and then have "meaningful discussions with them, which is exactly what we did," Major said.

The tight-knit but complex matrix of Williams family relationships is on full display.

Their mother, Oracene Price, says she knows nothing about 70-year-old Richard's current wife, Lakeisha, with whom he now has a baby boy.

"More power to her," Price says, bursting into laughter. "The only advice I can say is, 'Run. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200."

When one of Richard's five children from previous relationships shows up on court, Serena has no idea who he is.

Still, while Richard and Oracene Price are divorced, both are omnipresent forces in the sisters' lives.

Serena describes them as a kind of yin and yang. If one pushed, the other pulled.

"Neither can exist without the other," she says.

Richard, the most controversial family figure due to his sometimes outrageous and incendiary statements, is both a doting father and hard-nosed opportunist. In past and present footage, his well-known temper flares. At one point he tells the filmmakers they are around too much and suffocating him, which is "why I got rid of my first wife."

The sisters also tearily discuss the murder of their half-sister, Yetunde Price, in 2003, and the controversy surrounding their last appearance at the tournament in Indian Wells, Calif., in 2001.

According to Major, the sisters are "very, very different" but undeniably close despite the fact they have to compete against one another on such a big stage.

Serena was more off-the-cuff but less involved with orchestrating the project. Venus comes off as the more protective older sibling.

"She was the one always watching to make sure we're not filming anything untoward," Major said. "Venus is more about it being all together in a nice package. Serena's not worried about messing things up."

The film features a number of tennis talking tennis heads such as McEnroe and Peter Bodo, along with others ranging from Bill Clinton to Chris Rock to Anna Wintour.

Instructor Rick Macci, who brought the Williams sisters from Compton to Florida and worked with them for four of their formative years, also speaks about their early days.

He still sounds bitter that Richard moved the family to West Palm Beach and took over all coaching duties when Venus, then 14, signed a lucrative, multimillion dollar contract with footwear and clothing company Reebok.

"That's a left hook out of nowhere," he says.

Major said they became worried that Venus was depressed or uninterested in the project because she was sleeping a lot and wasn't forthcoming about her physical struggles. "I didn't know what was going on with her," she said.

Venus sometimes left them on eggshells.

"I was always afraid I was going to piss her off and lived with fear they might shut the thing down," Major said.

Both filmmakers wanted more from the sisters, but were happy with their output.

"I would have loved to film them going to church to see a bit more of what their religion means to them and how it has shaped them," Baird wrote of the sisters, who are Jehovah's witnesses. "They did not seem comfortable with letting us into this side of their lives which we had to respect."

Likewise, while the film discusses Richard's upbringing in the Jim Crow south, the sisters talk sparingly about race.

Serena tells the filmmakers that she prefers black men to white men and she discusses her stance on boycotting Indian Wells since 2001 after what he family believes was a racially tinged reaction from fans.

Venus says little.

"The thing that Venus wanted to talk about the absolute least is race," said Major. "Something she said that was not in the film is that race is not a winning topic."
Filmmaker Michelle Major and Serena Williams (Photo: Venus and Serena)

Thursday, April 4, 2013



We send joyous birthday wishes to South African trumpet player Hugh Masekela. He turns seventy-four today.

So in true celebratory fashion, here's an exceptional performance featuring his band filmed at the 1986 Freedom Beat Festival. 



(B. APRIL 4, 1939)

"Soweto Blues"
by Hugh Masekela
Sung by Miriam Makeba
Composed 1976

This song, originally by Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba, two exiled South African anti-apartheid musicians, tells the horrific story of the Soweto Massacre of June 16, 1976. Between 200 and 600 people died in the riots, many of them schoolchildren. The climax of the song is sung in Xhosa and translates to, "Where were the men, when the children were throwing stones, when the children were being shot? Where were you?" The irony in these questions is that the men were conscripted to work in coalmines away from home, thus leaving their families defenseless:


The children got a letter from the master
It said: no more Xhosa, Sotho, no more Zulu.
Refusing to comply they sent an answer
That's when the policemen came to the rescue
Children were flying bullets dying
The mothers screaming and crying
The fathers were working in the cities
The evening news brought out all the publicity:

Chorus: "Just a little atrocity, deep in the city"

Soweto blues
Soweto blues
Soweto blues
Soweto blues

Benikuphi ma madoda
(where were the men)
abantwana beshaywa
(when the children were throwing stones)
ngezimbokodo Mabedubula abantwana
(when the children were being shot)
Benikhupi na
(where were you?)

There was a full moon on the golden city
Standing at the door was the man without pity
Accusing everyone of conspiracy
Tightening the curfew charging people with walking
Yes, the border is where he was waiting
Waiting for the children, frightened and running

A handful got away but all the others
Hurried their chain without any publicity

Chorus: "Just a little atrocity, deep in the city"

Soweto blues
Soweto blues
Soweto blues
Soweto blues

chorus: Benikuphi ma madoda (where were the men) abantwana beshaywa (when the children were throwing stones) ngezimbokodo

Mabedubula abantwana (when the children were being shot) Benikhupi na (where were you?)

Soweto blues
Soweto blues
Soweto blues - abu yethu a mama
Soweto blues - they are killing all the children
Soweto blues - without any publicity
Soweto blues - oh, they are finishing the nation
Soweto blues - while calling it black on black
Soweto blues - but everybody knows they are behind it
Soweto Blues - without any publicity
Soweto blues - they are finishing the nation
Soweto blues - god, somebody, help!
Soweto blues - (abu yethu a mama)
Soweto blues


Miriam Makeba with Hugh Masekela- South Africa freedom song