ORLANDO – It opens to general release in movie theaters today, chronicling the rise of a leading timeshare mogul in Orlando.
But while director Lauren Greenfield’s new documentary, “The Queen of Versailles,” drew raves at the Sundance Film Festival last January, the subject of the movie is taking aim at the filmmakers, accusing them of misrepresenting the financial health of his company, Westgate Resorts, a leading timeshare based here in Orlando.
“We aren’t talking about sacred scripture here that can’t be altered,” wrote David A. Siegel, the president of Westgate Resort, in a letter sent on July 16 to Martin Garbus of the law firm Eaton & Van Winkle LLC. Garbus is an attorney representing Greenfield.
“It’s a movie,” Siegel wrote. “It’s entertainment. All we want is for the post-script to be tweaked – ever so slightly – to provide audiences a fair and honest update.
“It’s easy in this digital age,” Siegel added.
The documentary, described in the advertising as a “rags-to-riches-to-rags” saga, looks at the ambitions by Siegel and his wife Jackie to build a 90,000-square-foot Florida mansion. The construction work slowed considerably after 2008 because of the collapse in the housing market and the subsequent credit crunch that followed within the banking industry.
The movie has already received positive reviews – Salon.com praised it as a “hilarious and tragic recession yarn” that was “too amazing for fiction.”
But Siegel, who amassed a fortune building timeshares in Florida and Las Vegas, claims in his letter to Garbus that the movie misrepresents Westgate’s financial status, and says many of the most highly-talked about scenes in the documentary were staged by Greenfield to make it all seem more dramatic.
He wants 26 words added to the post-script at the end of the movie, stating that Westgate is doing better than ever before.
“I have never asked that a single frame be cut,” Siegel wrote. “What we actually are asking for is incredibly easy, would cost nothing for Lauren and her distributors, and would not compromise Lauren’s artistic integrity one bit. By our count, we would like no more than 26 words added to the already existing post-script at the end of Lauren’s film just to clear up the misimpressions audiences are left hanging with.”
He wants the documentary to note that both Westgate and, for that matter, the refinanced Versailles project, are doing fine.
“Simply put, Westgate is financially healthy – the most profitable ion its 32-year history,” Siegel wrote. “Versailles does not face foreclosure because it was refinanced, and construction is starting again. It’s simply a fair and accurate update, and, in fact, mirrors what Lauren has been telling film festival audiences.”
Some film critics, like The Huffington Post’s Zorianna Kit, have made note of the fact that Greenfield’s original concept of the documentary changed significantly once the recession hit, midway through filming.
Originally focusing on the construction of a mansion inspired partly by the Versailles palace in France, the recession that began in 2008 totally altered the movie’s focus, Kit wrote.
“Not only were the Siegels forced to halt the building of their dream home, but their current lifestyle slowly disintegrated as the real estate bubble not only burst David's business, but the family's entire way of being,” Kit wrote in her review. “While this is a terrible misfortune for the Siegels, it turned out to be quite an unexpected cinematic twist for Greenfield's documentary, as she was there to chronicle the entire unraveling. Needless to say, it turned her project into quite a different film than what she and the Siegels' initially set out to do.”
Still, Kit wrote that the documentary does not make the Siegels look bad – quite the opposite, in fact.
“One wants to hate this family instantly and watch their downfall like one watching a wealthy politician or corporate titan's fall from grace,” Kit wrote. “But the Siegels are surprisingly unpretentious …. They are good people. Their staff adores them. Though the Siegels' lifestyle is almost comical in its extravagance, they've worked hard for it and managed to stay humble in the process.
“In that way,” Kit added, “the couple represents all of us struggling in this recession … the Siegels' grandiose lifestyle being taken away from them serves as a grand-scale example of how we all have suffered to varying degrees in this economic meltdown.”
Even so, Siegel sued Greenfield this year, along with the documentary’s executive producer, Frank Evers, in U.S. District Court in Florida. Siegel is charging defamation.
In his letter, Siegel wrote “My complaint is not about our being Kardashian-ized through Lauren’s voyeuristic lens. It isn’t even about a feature-length reality TV show that portrays my family in scenes that, but for the cameras, would never have taken place. It’s about being fair and accurate to the company I built – Westgate Resorts – and the more than 5,000 dedicated employees who work for us.’’
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