Williams sisters withdraw support for 'Venus and Serena' documentary over father's portrayal


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Venus and Serena Williams have withdrawn their support from a film which offers an unprecedented insight into the private lives of the champion tennis sisters following a disagreement over the portrayal of their father.

Compiled from 450 hours of footage and produced by an Oscar-winning team, the documentary “Venus and Serena” was expected to be a highlight of the Toronto International Film Festival.

The sisters lifted the veil on their closely-guarded privacy, awarding the filmmakers access to shoot in their homes, hotels and even hospital rooms over the course of a year.

However the sisters pulled out of an expected red carpet appearance at the film’s world premiere this week, timed to follow Serena’s fourth singles victory at the US Open, amid a dispute over the portrayal of Richard Williams as a controlling figure.

The film covers their father’s habit of interrupting his daughters’ interviewers from off-camera and the 78-page manifesto in which he plotted out the Grand Slam winning careers of his girls when they were in elementary school.

Williams’ personal life is also scrutinised, including the children he fathered out-of-wedlock.

According to the Los Angeles Times, eldest sister Venus took particular umbrage over her father’s portrayal and sought changes from the filmmakers, Maiken Baird and Michelle Major, who are ABC News veterans.

Changes were made to the film but they were not sufficient to accommodate Venus, according to reports.

Major said: “I’m disappointed the sisters didn't like everything that was being shown, because we really set out to tell a true story that was very inspiring.”

“Venus and Serena”, executive produced by Alex Gibney, an acclaimed documentarian who directed Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room, is said to be largely complimentary towards the sisters.

It tells the story of their rise from LA’s tough Compton district to total domination over their sport and includes unguarded images of the sisters at play, performing at home karaoke parties, as well as their fight against serious injuries.

Carlos Fleming, Venus’ manager, said that his client accepted that the filmmakers did the best job they could “under the circumstances.” Fleming called it “an ambitious story to tell for any filmmaker, and we feel like anyone who would try to tell would find it challenging.”

Fleming said that a “scheduling conflict” had prevented Venus from attending but Film Festival sources indicated that the premiere date had been arranged to allow the sisters to attend.