It’s been six years since The Queen of Versailles presented a comical yet disturbing portrait of a rich Florida family who wanted to build a house that was to be a replica of Versailles Palace for them to live in near Orlando. They set out on this quest right as the Great Recession/housing crisis happened. The mansion remains incomplete to this day. David Siegel, the patriarch, a man who made his fortune by selling timeshares, tried to sue documentary filmmaker Lauren Greenfield for defamation twice. I recently had a chance to catch up with Greenfield to see what happened with the lawsuits and talk about her latest documentary, Generation Wealth.
Well, if you’re wondering, Greenfield won the lawsuits. Speaking via phone from New York, Greenfield says matter-of-factly, “We won of course because they had agreed to do the film but also because the judge said every word of it was true, which I guess was part of why we won.”
Ironically, throughout the lawsuit, which Siegel filed right after the movie’s premiere at Sundance, where it won the U.S. Directing Award for Documentary, Greenfield maintained a friendship with Siegel’s wife, Jackie Siegel, the former 1993 Ms. Florida winner who wound up marrying and having children with David Siegel, despite a 30-year age difference.
“Jackie and I are still friends,” says Greenfield. “She was promoting the film for a year with me, even during the lawsuit. She traveled with me to England, and we went to Helsinki and Switzerland, and we went around the world, so she really loved the film and was always interested in doing things with it.”
Their friendship continues to this day. Jackie even makes an appearance in Generation Wealth. She also showed her support when a book of photographs under the same name, which also stands as a retrospective of Greenfield’s work as a photographer, was published by Phadon. “When Generation Wealth came out she went to the exhibition in L.A. and New York, and she came to the premiere here in New York on Monday night, so it was really fun to see her again,” notes Greenfield.
Meanwhile, the Siegel’s Versailles replica remains unfinished. However, they have not given up their dream. “What happened after the movie was that they were able to get the land back, and it’s still far from finished,” says the filmmaker. “Jackie said it’s the only house that’s been in construction and renovation at the same time because there was so much damage from just being outside, that were exposed to the elements unfinished. They had to repair a lot of the wood.”
In a review back in 2012, this writer compared the documentary of The Queen of Versailles to Farewell, My Queen, a film released around the same time about a real person who once inhabited the real Versailles, Marie Antoinette (Lessons in decadence for 2 distinct Queens of Versailles). The comparison revealed how innate the desire for wealth is for some people. It transcends time and status, which actually is the focus of Greenfield’s new documentary. You can read much more about Greenfield’s reflection on how people are drawn to wealth and how we are constantly bombarded by images that celebrate wealth in the media, as well as more about the Siegels, in my interview in Miami New Times, both in print (out this week) and online. Jump though the headline below to read that part of my interview:
Generation Wealth runs 106 minutes and is rated R. It opens Friday, Aug. 3, in the Miami area at AMC Aventura 24, AMC Sunset Place 24 and South Beach Regal 18 Miami Beach. In Palm Beach County it opens exclusively at Regal Shadowood 16. For screenings in other parts of the U.S., visit this link. Magnolia Pictures sent us an online screener for the purpose of this interview.