The Queen of Versailles
|The Queen of Versailles|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Lauren Greenfield|
|Produced by||Lauren Greenfield
Danielle Renfrew Behrens
David A. Siegel
|Music by||Jeff Beal|
|Edited by||Victor Livingston|
|Distributed by||Magnolia Pictures
|Running time||100 minutes (also 55 minutes version exists)|
The Queen of Versailles is a 2012 American documentary film by Lauren Greenfield. The film depicts Jackie Siegel and David Siegel, owners of Westgate Resorts, and their family as they build the Versailles house, the largest and most expensive single-family house in the United States, and the crisis they face as the U.S. economy declines.
|This section requires expansion. (October 2014)|
David Siegel is the wealthy owner of Westgate Resorts, a timeshare company in Florida. His wife Jackie Siegel, thirty years his junior, is a former Miss Florida contestant with an engineering degree. They begin construction on the Versailles house, a mansion modeled on the Palace of Versailles. Located on the outskirts of Orlando, it would be the largest single-family detached home in the United States if completed.
However, Siegel's company is badly affected by the Great Recession in 2008 and his family struggle to cope with their reduced income. Construction on the new house is halted, most of their servants are laid off and their pets are neglected. David retreats into his office, determined to save his property venture in Las Vegas. Jackie struggles to rein in her compulsive shopping habits. The children and their nanny are also interviewed. The film ends with none of their issues resolved.
The film was reviewed positively. The film-critics aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported 95% of critics gave a positive review, with an average score of 8/10 and the consensus, "The Queen of Versailles is a timely, engaging, and richly drawn portrait of the American Dream improbably composed of equal parts compassion and schadenfreude."
The New York Times' A. O. Scott called the film "A gaudy guilty pleasure that is also a piece of trenchant social criticism", and said, "the movie starts out in the mode of reality television, resembling the pilot for a new “Real Housewives” franchise or a reboot of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” Before long, though, it takes on the coloration of a Theodore Dreiser novel — not quite an American tragedy but a sprawling, richly detailed study of ambition, desire and the wild swings of fortune that are included in the price of the capitalist ticket."
The Economist called it "an uncomfortably intimate glimpse of a couple’s struggle with a harsh new reality," concluding that "the film’s great achievement is that it invites both compassion and Schadenfreude. What could have been merely a silly send-up manages to be a meditation on marriage and a metaphor for the fragility of fortunes, big and small."
The documentary won the U.S. Directing Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, the Grand Jury Prize from the Brisbane International Film Festival, and a Best Director Award from the RiverRun Film Festival. "The Queen of Versailles" was also nominated for Best Documentary Film, 2012, by the International Documentary Association (IDA). It was broadcast on BBC Four as part of the Storyville series.
On January 24, 2013, the United States District Court, Middle District of Florida, stayed the suit pending arbitration. Siegel claimed Greenfield had not obtained a proper release from the subjects of the film, in particular David Siegel and Westgate Resorts. In staying the lawsuit, Judge Anne C. Conway found David Siegel's testimony to be "inconsistent and incredible and thus lacking weight." She disagreed with Siegel's position, which she deemed to be "quite bizarre" in light of his subsequent conduct. Directing that the case be administratively closed, Conway ordered the defendants to file and serve, on or before May 1, 2013, and every three months thereafter, a status report regarding the arbitration proceedings.
The subsequent arbitration was heard by Roy Rifkin of the IFTA (Independent Film and Television Alliance) in July 2013. On March 13, 2014, he returned his ruling that the film was not defamatory. He elaborated, "having viewed the supposedly egregious portions of the Motion Picture numerous times, [the Arbitrator] simply does not find that any of the content of the Motion Picture was false,". Furthermore, he wrote that "There is nothing taken away by the viewer of the Motion Picture that is inconsistent with the fundamental reality that the global recession created a crisis for Westgate causing it to have to reluctantly give up its interest in PH Towers," and "To a great extent this is derived from the words of David, Jackie, and Richard Siegel themselves. Perhaps the clearest example of this is David referring to the story being told as a 'rags-to-riches-to-rags story.'" Lastly, Mr. Rifkin found that Westgate failed to show how it was damaged from the documentary, saying that the company "did not remotely establish the type of malice required for a defamation claim on behalf of a public figure". He subsequently ordered David Siegel and Westgate Resorts to pay the filmmakers $750,000 for legal fees.
In a separate arbitration, Greg Derin of the American Arbitration Association ruled on February 28, 2014 that the filmmakers' agreement with the family, pertaining to certain life rights, was "invalid and unenforceable". The Siegels' attempt to sue for $5 million in damages was also dismissed by Mr. Derin.
Ten years after breaking ground in 2004, the Versailles house remains unfinished and is listed for sale. Jackie Siegel signed a development deal with Wilshire Studios. David Siegel and Westgate Resorts continue to operate a timeshare business, but without the PH Towers featured in the documentary. As a privately held enterprise, it is unknown how much of the $1.2 billion in debt Westgate Resorts continues to owe its lenders (originally reported by Businessweek in March 15, 2012).
- "The Queen of Versailles". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 18 November 2012.
- Scott, A. O. (July 19, 2012). "Let them Eat Crow". The New York Times.
- "All fall down: A riches-to-rags story in America". The Economist. 25 August 2012. Retrieved 31 December 2012.
- Silverstein, Melissa (January 30, 2012). "Lauren Greenfield and Ava Duvernay Win Top Directing Honors at Sundance". Indiewire.com. Archived from the original on September 27, 2013.
- "BIFFDOCS 2012 winner announced". November 22, 2012. Archived from the original on September 27, 2013.
- "2012 Award Winners". n.d. Archived from the original on April 2, 2014. Retrieved 2014-04-02.
- "2012 IDA Documentary Awards". n.d. Archived from the original on April 2, 2014. Retrieved April 2, 2014.
- "Storyville: The Queen Of Versailles". Retrieved 24 February 2013.
- Brooks Barnes (2012-01-20). "Documentary Footage Raises Questions About Lawsuit". The Carpetbagger (blog). New York Times. Retrieved 2013-02-05.
- Kurt Orzeck (2012-01-11). "Sundance sued over opening-day documentary". Reuters. Retrieved 2013-02-05.
- Eriq Gardner (2013-01-25). "'Queen of Versailles' Filmmaker Wins Key Ruling in Defamation Fight". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2013-02-06.
- "Westgate Resorts, Ltd. v. Lauren Greenfield, Frank Evers and Greenfield/Evers LLC". 2013-01-24. Retrieved 2013-02-06.
- Sara K. Clarke (2013-01-28). "'Queen of Versailles' lawsuit headed for arbitration". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved 2013-02-06.
- Deshayla Strachan (2013-01-29). "'Queen of Versailles' Spat Heads to Arbitration". Entertainment Law Digest. Retrieved 2013-02-06.
- Gardner, Eriq (2014-03-13). "'Queen of Versailles' Filmmaker Beats Westgate's Defamation Claim (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter.
- Benzine, Adam (2014-03-17). "IFTA backs filmmakers over "Queens of Versailles" complaint". RealScreen.com.
- Benzine, Adam (March 20, 2014). "Exclusive: "Queen of Versailles" subjects ink NBC studio deal". RealScreen.com. Retrieved 2014-03-30.
- "Versailles Orlando for sale". FloridaLakeFront. 2012-01-20. Retrieved 2013-02-05.
- "Versailles Lake Butler Mansion by David Siegel". NineHomes. Retrieved 2014-06-14.
- "PH Towers Westgate at Planet Hollywood has new owner". 2014-06-04. Retrieved 2014-06-04.
- "Versailles, the Would-Be Biggest House in America". 2014-06-02. Retrieved 2014-06-02.
- Official website
- The Queen of Versailles at Rotten Tomatoes
- The Queen of Versailles at the Internet Movie Database
- Court order (United States District Court, Middle District of Florida, Jan. 24, 2013)
- Interview on WNYC Leonard Lopate show July 16, 2012 with director
- Interview of Lauren Greenfield by Jian Ghomeshi for CBC Radio, Aug. 13, 2012