Subject of Sundance documentary sues over 'defamatory' festival blurb
The subject of a real estate documentary premiering at next week’s Sundance Film Festival has sued the festival presenters and the director and producer of the film, claiming that publicity materials describing “The Queen of Versailles” defamed him.
“Queen of Versailles” follows developer David Siegel and his family in Orlando, Fla., as they build a 90,000-square-foot home modeled after the palace outside of Paris.
Siegel, president and chief executive officer of Westgate Resorts Ltd., said in a lawsuit filed in Florida on Tuesday that the initial Sundance summary provided to the media for “Queen of Versailles” falsely stated that Siegel’s timeshare business “collapsed,” that his home was “foreclosed” on and that he ended up destitute, as his life was called a “rags-to-riches-to-rags” story.
Sundance revised the film’s summary after Siegel’s complaints. But the older version of the plot description appeared on more than 12,000 websites, the suit alleges, and the “rags” line was not redacted. Consequently, Siegel and Westgate’s reputation were damaged, the suit says. “The average reader would think he was broke,” said Siegel’s lawyer, Michael Marder. “Westgate is a stable and profitable company.”
The $75,000 defamation action names as defendants the Sundance Institute; the film’s director, Lauren Greenfield; and her husband, producer Frank Evers.
Marder said the movie’s plot summary is especially problematic in Park City, Utah, where the festival opens Jan. 19, as Westgate operates a timeshare property at one of the mountain resort’s ski areas. “We’ve had people wondering if the doors are shutting,” Marder said. “It can’t hit any closer to home.”
The lawsuit says Greenfield, who directed the eating-disorder documentary “Thin,” and her crew also enjoyed about 165 free room nights in Siegel’s resorts and stayed in his personal home.
Marder said neither he nor Siegel have seen the film, but Marder said he was not suing over a longer description of the film in the festival’s official film guide. The film is scheduled to screen in Park City on the festival’s opening day.
A spokesperson for the filmmakers declined to comment. The Sundance Institute said in a statement that it "maintains its long-held and firm commitment to freedom of expression and looks forward to screening this film by an award-winning filmmaker at the opening of Sundance Film Festival 2012."
Photo: "The Queen of Versailles." Credit: Lauren Greenfield