Sundance 2012: 'Queen of Versailles' interview scene may put crimp in lawsuit
Timeshare mogul David Siegel, the subject of a documentary that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on Thursday, was angered when he learned that publicity materials advertising the film described it as a "rags to riches to rags story."
He was so upset, in fact, that last week he filed a lawsuit against the Sundance Institute, the director and the producer claiming the blurb defamed him.
But as it turns out, Siegel, 74, himself describes his life as a "riches to rags" story in the film.
The movie, directed by Lauren Greenfield, centers on Siegel and his 43-year-old wife Jacqueline's quest to build the biggest home in America -- a 90,000-square-foot multimillion-dollar home meant to resemble the French palace Versailles. As the documentary reveals, David made the majority of his money through the timeshare company Westgate Resorts Ltd. His business was so strong that he built the Planet Hollywood Westgate Towers, a residential high-rise in Las Vegas that cost about $600 million. Unfortunately, the launch coincided with the Wall Street crash, and banks soon began pulling out their investments in the project.
When Greenfield began filming the Siegels, they were riding high -- making plans to move from their already- plush 26,000-square-foot Orlando, Fla., home into their own Versailles. But the dream home was never finished and eventually was threatened with foreclosure.
Accordingly, in one confessional-style interview with the filmmaker that appears toward the end of the film, David Siegel laments that a film that began as a "rags to riches" story will now likely become one of "riches to rags." (Siegel concedes he had not seen the film before filing the suit -- maybe he forgot his own words?)
We asked Greenfield in a question-and-answer session after the screening about the lawsuit, but she said she could not comment about the ongoing litigation. Looking like one of the cast members of "Real Housewives of Orange County" with her platinum-blond hair, fur coat and leopard-print dress, Jacqueline showed up to the screening Thursday, though David did not. Asked why he wasn't there -- and if Jacqueline agreed with her husband's suit -- Greenfield deflected the question, saying she wanted to give Jacqueline time to "absorb" the film, since she had seen it for the first time that evening.
"It's definitely true that when I started, [the film] was more of a cinema verite look at wealth and building the biggest house in America, and the tone definitely changed with the financial crisis," said Greenfield, who visited the Siegels 10 times over the course of three years while making the film. "But the Siegels were very brave."
-- Amy Kaufman
Photo: Lauren Greenfield, left, and Jacqueline Siegel on the red carpet before the Sundance screening of "The Queen of Versailles." Credit: Danny Moloshok / Associated Press