Ryan White: Serena

This film about tennis superstar Serena Williams is one more of the many current documentary portraits of celebrities in the entertainment business and political life. Contrary to the classics in this direct cinema tradition (“Primary” (JFK), “Lonely Boy” (Paul Anka), “Stravinsky”) you sense that you don’t get it all, that the huge amount of people around Serena have had an influence on what to be filmed and what not to be filmed… control of the public image in other words. A limitation of course…

… and yet you get close to a lovely and lively, funny and serious, emotional, extremely professional sportswoman, who is also into the fashion business and who loves her sister Venus, very often the one she has to play against in the big matches. She is much more interesting for a film than Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi.

The grand slam tournaments are the red thread in the film – the director has followed Serena over the season where she had the chance to win all four tournaments within the same year. She wins the three and fails on the last one, where she loses to a skinny Italian… This constitutes the dramatic highlight of the film, after she lost she does not want to talk to anyone, her French coach leaves his hotel room not knowing about his future, cut to Serena in her bed with her teddy bear, a little girl with some grown-up comments and a text saying that she then stayed away from tennis for a long time.

The annoying elements of a film that is well designed with music to tell us what to feel – yes it is mainstream in that aspect – come up when the director asks some of the people around Serena to talk about/characterise her, unnecessary as she herself has all the charisma needed, and comments brilliantly on the media interest on her curves and muscles…

Unnecessary except for the coach, the Frenchman who is a good accompanying character in and outside the picture, the latter when he comments on her performances: I love you and I trust you.

USA, 2016, 90 mins.

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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