Photo courtesy of Westgate Resorts.
Wake up and good morning. Some of the Sundance Film Festival's most buzz-worthy films tapped into the country's financial stress and social unrest, Bloomberg News reports in this story, and one of those films lasers in on an astonishing lifestyle and symbol of excess in "The Queen of Versailles."
The "Queen" in this film (a "riotous documentary" says The Daily Beast) is Jackie Siegel, wife of David Siegel -- the man often called Orlando's timeshare king -- and the couple's quest to build a 90,000 square foot house (above) in the upscale suburb of Orlando called Windermere. Hard time hit the Siegels and their Westgate Resorts timeshare business before the pretentiously named Versailles could be finished. It is for sale. The Venture blog first covered the Versailles story in June 2010.
This month an upset Siegel sued Redford's Sundance Institute and the two filmmakers behind the Versailles project for defamation in U.S. District Court in Orlando. The Orlando Sentinel reports the lawsuit takes exception to the film's description states that Siegel's time-share empire had collapsed and the partially built house had been foreclosed upon. The lawsuit argues that those statements, along with the phrase "rags-to-riches-to-rags story" are untrue and have hurt Westgate's business.
Here's how Sundance's web site boils down the film, directed by 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 falters due to the economic crisis. Their rags-to-riches-to-rags story reveals the innate virtues and flaws of the American Dream.
Four years ago, David Siegel was one of Central Florida's biggest names, with brisk time-share sales at his Westgate Resorts, a growing portfolio of properties and a 90,000-square-foot home under construction, the Orlando Sentinel reported last fall. "Today." that story said, "he is contending with lenders who have stepped in to call the shots on everything from how much he gets paid to whether he can sell time-share units at his new Las Vegas tower. He has slashed his workforce in half. And he is looking for a buyer for his unfinished Winderemere home dubbed Versailles." As David Siegel, then 76, told the Sentinel: "I'm going through a very difficult time right now."
Here's how The Daily Beast captures the mocking tone of the Versailles documentary in a broader context: "Siegel may hate being the butt of a joke, but treating the wealthy with scorn is a treasured American pastime. Newt Gingrich's ridicule forced Mitt Romney to release his tax returns last week. An appetite for humiliation drove sales for Stephanie Madoff Mack's tell-all book last year and made Raj Rajaratnam's insider-trading trial a news sensation. As a weapon in class warfare, derision easily beats occupation... Which helps explain why Siegel is out for revenge."
Notes the Beast: In a statement, Sundance said it "maintains its commitment to freedom of expression."
And Jackie, aka The Queen? The former Mrs. Florida has declined to comment so far as well. the Beast said, adding: "While her husband was filing his lawsuit, the former Mrs. Florida, wearing a fur coat and a leopard-print minidress, was in Park City, attending the film's premiere."
Indeed. Check out this chummy photo (left) of film director Lauren Greenfield and the leopard-printed Jackie Siegel at the Sundance festival. (Photo: AP's Danny Moloshok.)
-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, Tampa Bay Times