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Monday, July 15, 2024 | Back issues
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Developer Claims Sundance Defamed Him

ORLANDO (CN) - A timeshare developer claims filmmakers defamed him in the movie "Queen of Versailles," whose promo material for the Sundance Film Festival claimed the developer's "empire collapse(d)" and his home is in foreclosure.

David A. Siegel and his company Westgate Resorts sued the Sundance Institute and Los Angeles-based husband-and-wife filmmakers Lauren Greenfield and Frank Evers, in Federal Court.

In his 12-page complaint, Siegel seems particularly stung because his company owns a ski resort in Park City, Utah, home to the Sundance Film Festival, where "Queen of Versailles" is scheduled be shown on opening night next week.

Siegel, president and CEO of Westgate, which owns and operates 27 resorts, says his company "was thriving as of 2008 before Lehman Brothers collapsed and the global economic crisis began." He says Westgate "suffered, as did all of the real estate segment of the U.S. economy, from the fundamental change in market conditions, including especially, the sudden unavailability of credit."

Siegel says the economic crisis forced Westgate to sell its interest in the uncompleted Planet Hollywood Towers by Westgate on the Las Vegas Strip, which was to be Westgate's largest resort. This sale was completed on Nov. 21, 2011, he says. The crisis also forced him to stop construction on his gigantic personal home in Orlando, which is known as Versailles.

"Construction was stopped on Versailles and instead of using revenues generated by the company and continuing to build Versailles, Siegel decided to dedicate all of his available funds and efforts to Westgate. Because of, in substantial part, these efforts, Westgate weathered the financial storm ...

"Currently, Westgate is a stable and profitable company and Siegel continues to own Versailles," according to the complaint.

But Siegel says that's not the way the filmmakers told it.

He says Greenfield approached him in August 2007 "and asked him whether or not he would be interested in being a subject for a documentary film to be produced by Greenfield."

"Greenfield expressed to Siegel that the film would center around the construction of Versailles."

Siegel agreed and Greenfield began shooting. He says the moviemaking took 4 years, during which he "provided Greenfield and her film crew with approximately 165 room nights at Siegel's resorts," and even put them up at his own home.

He claims that Greenfield never mentioned the Sundance Festival to him, nor that she had submitted the film to the festival.

The last time the crew stayed at a Westgate resort was Nov. 28, 2011, Siegel says.

Two days later, he says, he learned that the movie had been selected for this year's Sundance Festival, "to be shown at the Festival on opening night, January 19, 2012 in Park City, Utah - the same city where Westgate owns and operates its ski resort."

Then came the unkindest cut of all: "At this same time, Sundance issued a press release describing the film as follows: 'The Queen of Versailles / U.S. (Director: Lauren Greenfield) - Jackie and David were triumphantly constructing the biggest house in America - a sprawling 90,000 square-foot palace inspired by Versailles - when their timeshare empire collapses and their house is foreclosed. Their rags-to-riches-to rags story reveals the innate virtues and flaws of the American Dream.'"

Siegel says the promo contains several defamatory statements:

"a. their timeshare empire collapses;

"b. their house is foreclosed; and

"c. rags-to-riches-to-rags story.

"Taken individually and collectively these statements portray Siegel and Westgate as essentially broke and out of business."

Siegel says that he "is so financially intertwined with his company Westgate such that Siegel's reputation is synonymous with Westgate's financial reputation and the two cannot be separated."

He says that his timeshare empire did not collapse, that "'rags-to-riches-to-rags' clearly and falsely portrays Siegel himself as currently broke and financially destitute, which is not the case," as Westgate continues to own and operate 27 resorts nationwide and has restructured its debt.

He claims that "upon learning of the false and defamatory statements in the original Sundance description, Siegel immediately contacted Greenfield to address these statements." He says that Greenfield and her husband Evers, who is the executive producer, "agreed with Siegel that the Sundance description was false and that they would be taking all necessary steps to correct it."

But Siegel says it was too late: that the promo material "had already been transmitted to various media outlets and appeared all over the Internet."

He demands punitive damages for defamation, from the Sundance Institute and the filmmakers.

Siegel is represented by Kathryn Saft with Greenspoon Marder in Orlando.

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