Sundance opens with eye on broken American dreams

Thu Jan 19, 2012 11:37pm EST
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By Christine Kearney

PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - The Sundance Film Festival opened on Thursday night with four features, including a documentary highlighting America's housing crisis, the fractured American dream and values humbled by today's lackluster economy.

The documentary, "The Queen of Versailles," follows self-made former billionaire and timeshare mogul David Siegel and his wife Jackie, who at first glance may not seem in touch with many Americans who have struggled in the current, downbeat economy.

The film, which debuted Thursday night to a packed house and solid applause, opens with the couple constructing their dream house: A sprawling 90,000 square foot mansion named "Versailles" inspired by the French palace.

But the story eventually comes to resemble many of the lessons learned by those who have lost their homes, jobs and experienced the effects of the economic crisis.

"The American dream has always been this idea of home ownership," director Laura Greenfield told Reuters, but the film shows the Siegels dealing with the slumping economy, like many in the United States, and "how they downsize and cope with the situation," eventually rediscovering what is important to them.

"They do take on this everyman quality that ends up putting them nearer to us in terms of the overreaching of America and downsizing and getting back to core values," said Greenfield.

"Versailles" is one of several high-profile films here that show Americans tackling problems associated with the weak economy, greed and dreams reevaluated.

"It's no secret that times are dark and grim," Robert Redford, whose Sundance Institute for independent filmmaking backs the festival, the largest gathering for U.S. independent filmmakers, told reporters on Thursday.   Continued...