Photographer and filmmaker Lauren Greenfield is being sued for defamation by the subject of her new documentary, “The Queen of Versailles,” which is set to premier on the opening night of the Sundance Film Festival. The Sundance Institute is also named in the suit, filed on January 10 in Florida District Court, as is Greenfield’s husband, Frank Evers, the executive producer of the film. The suit, which seeks $75,000 each from Greenfield and Sundance, as well as unspecified damages, was first reported by The Salt Lake Tribune.
The content of the film is not at issue; the lawsuit is over the press release for the film.
The plaintiff is timeshare developer David A. Siegel, whose family is the subject of Greenfield’s documentary. “The Queen of Versailles” tells the story of the billionaire Siegels as they attempt to build the biggest house in America, only to struggle as the economic downturn threatens their business and their 90,000-square-foot dream home.
The suit claims that the original press release made three false and defamatory statements: That “[the Siegel's] timeshare empire collapses”; that “[the Siegel's] house is foreclosed”; and that the film tells a “[rags-to-riches-to rags story.”
Lawyers for Siegel took exception to the wording of the press release. It was amended and publications that covered the news, including The New York Times, were contacted to correct the information. However the suit alleges that the damage to Siegel’s reputation, and that of his timeshare business, Westgate Resorts, LTD. had been done because the original description had already spread far and wide via the internet, appearing on more than 12,000 Web sites, according to the complaint. The suit also alleges that Greenfield kept the false description on her personal Web site after receiving notice from Siegel’s lawyers.
“Taken individually and collectively, these [false] statements portray Siegel and Westgate as essentially broke and out of business,” argue Siegel’s lawyers, GreenspoonMarder, in the complaint.
The suit alleges that Siegel and Westgate Resorts have suffered damage to their reputation. It also states that “various owners” and “potential customers” have questioned the financial security of Westgate as a result of the press release.