It is becoming more and more common for unhappy documentary subjects to sue filmmakers for unflattering portrayals. Often, such as in the cases of Borat and more recently Tabloid, the lawsuits are based in embarrassment and alleged deceit on the part of the production. Other times, such as today, they’re claims of flat out defamation and untrue representation.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, real estate mogul David Siegel is suing the makers of the upcoming doc The Queen of Versailles, as well as the Sundance Institute, mainly for calling his a “rags-to-riches-to-rags” story and stating that his empire “collapsed.” Apparently ever since Queen was announced as a selection for the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, Siegel has been hearing concern about his company from people who’ve read the film’s description in publicity materials.
The real controversy is that Siegel thinks he’s being represented falsely out of malice and The Hollywood Reporter mentions a potential conflict of interest on the part of Sundance founder Robert Redford, who owns resorts in Park City that compete with Siegel’s own. But this seems a pretty big stretch. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if the fest was compelled to drop the doc from its lineup altogether, let alone the competition program it’s a part of.
Of course the publicity stuff can be changed, and has already been done so before, only not to Siegel’s satisfaction. Presently the online version of the Sundance film guide refers to the story as merely “rags-to-riches” which does now seem unfitting to the whole point of the doc, which is about Siegel’s attempt to build the largest house in America (see it here), a plan that hit a bump when the economy went bad. Yet most websites still feature the original synopsis from the initial press release, in which the unfavored description remains.
Hopefully the lawsuit won’t hold much weight except for the attention it’ll bring to the film. It’s one I’m looking forward to and hear great things about. Directed by Lauren Greenfield (Thin), who began following the Siegel family prior to the financial crisis, the doc presents an interesting side to the current economic situation, regardless of whether or not the Siegels are actually wearing rags by the end of the narrative.
The Queen of Versailles is currently set to premiere at the fest on January 19, 2012.