On the first night of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, participants packed into a sold-out theater to screen “The Queen of Versailles” – a film directed by award-winning documentarian, Lauren Greenfield. But what many of the viewers may not have known is that “The Queen of Versailles” is embroiled in a defamation lawsuit.
How the Queen of Versailles Defamation Lawsuit Came To Be
Several years ago, Greenfield and her team set out to document the life David “the timeshare king” Siegel, his wife Jackie and their 7 kids, as they constructed their 90,000 square-foot manse in Windermere, Florida. Ostensibly trying to replicate royalty, the Siegel’s home was to be a replica of Versailles – the famed palace on the outskirts of Paris.
Everything was going along great – and then the financial crisis of 2008 hit. The Siegel’s, it turned out, as a result of the downturn, ended up having a lot more problems to ponder than whether or not their palace was being built. Private jets turned into coach-class seats, and the documentary became more about the Siegel’s outward reversal of fortune.
The Defamation Claims
Original promotional material for the film, published by Sundance, included language suggesting that Seigel’s business had “collapsed,” the house was “foreclosed” on and the family was “destitute.” Moreover, the film was described as a “rags-to-riches-to-rags” story.
Upon seeing the marketing blurbs, Seigel demanded that the language be changed. Sundance did comply, but it was already too late – the excerpts the subjects found most distasteful and defamatory had already made their way to 12,000 websites.
So, Seigel lawyered up and is now suing Greenfield, the Sundance Institute and Frank Evers – Greenfield’s husband and producer of the documentary – for defamation. Michael Marder, Seigel’s counsel, specifically said that “Westgate [Seigel’s firm] is a stable and profitable company.”
The suit is asking for $75,000 in defamation damages.
When asked to comment on the defamation lawsuit, Sundance simply stated that it “maintains its long held and firm commitment to freedom of expression.”
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