"Riches-to-rags" film on opulent family home prompts lawsuit

Sun Jan 15, 2012 3:55pm EST
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By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - Time share mogul David Siegel welcomed a filmmaker's proposal in 2007 to document his construction of what was to be the nation's largest family home -- an opulent 90,000-square-foot mansion named "Versailles" after the French palace and conceived during a housing boom.

More than four years and a global economic collapse later, Siegel has filed a $75,000 lawsuit against the filmmakers and the Sundance Film Festival, where the documentary premieres on January 19, for what he calls defamation of character.

The house, with bowling alleys, a children's theater and 20-car garage, never fully materialized amid the economic downturn. It remains unfinished and is up for sale.

In materials promoting the film, Sundance calls it a "rags-to-riches-to-rags" story that reveals the "innate virtues and flaws of the American Dream."

The promotions characterize Siegel's Westgate Resorts time share business as faltering -- a description Siegel's attorneys say is not only damaging but inaccurate.

The suit names filmmaker Lauren Greenfield along with Sundance. It also takes issue with initial promos, later corrected by Sundance, which stated inaccurately that the house was foreclosed on and that Siegel's business had collapsed.

"I don't know anyone in the last three years that didn't suffer (economically), but they are certainly far from being in rags and the company collapsing," Siegel's lawyer Michael Marder told Reuters.

Marder said Greenfield spent last Thanksgiving in a complimentary room at one of Siegel's Orlando-area resorts and visited the Siegel family at their 20,000-square-foot-home.   Continued...