Developer sues Sundance, filmmakers

Courts • Westgate Resorts CEO says news release about film damaged his business.
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A timeshare developer whose empire includes a Park City property is suing Robert Redford's Sundance Institute and the makers of a documentary playing in this month's Sundance Film Festival, alleging a description of the film defamed him.

Florida developer David A. Siegel and his company, Westgate Resorts Ltd., filed the lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Orlando, Fla. It names the Sundance Institute and two of the makers of the documentary, "The Queen of Versailles": director Lauren Greenfield and her husband, executive producer Frank Evers.

The lawsuit seeks $75,000 in damages from Sundance, plus another $75,000 from the filmmakers, plus unspecified punitive damages.

The movie profiles Siegel and his wife, Jacqueline, as they built a 90,000-square-foot mansion just as Westgate was riding the storms of the global financial crisis. It will premiere in Park City's Eccles Theatre on Thursday, Jan. 19, as the first film to screen at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.

Siegel objects to the description of the film in a Sundance press release, issued on Nov. 30, when the festival's competition slate was announced. The original description said the movie chronicled "when [the Siegels'] timeshare empire collapses and their house is foreclosed. Their rags-to-riches-to-rags story reveals the innate virtues and flaws of the American dream."

According to the lawsuit, Siegel objected to Greenfield and Evers, and to Sundance, about the claims that Westgate had collapsed and that the house faced foreclosure. He also objected to the "rags-to-riches-to-rags" line.

At the filmmakers' request, Sundance revised the description to read "when their timeshare empire falters due to the economic crisis." The "rags-to-riches-to-rags" reference remained, though.

Even with the revision, the lawsuit alleges, the damage was done. The original description had appeared on more than 12,000 websites, including on that of The Salt Lake Tribune. (TheTribune edited the online article about the festival on Dec. 30, and issued a clarification in the Dec. 31 print edition, after receiving an email from Siegel's lawyers.) Greenfield's website still was using the original description as of Dec. 30.

Siegel and Westgate, the lawsuit continues, "have been shunned by customers and the business community, specifically the Park City area, with whom they previously had business relations and have suffered a loss of customers and diminished profits." The company has also fielded calls from owners and potential customers about the company's financial health.

One of Westgate Resorts' properties is the Westgate Park City Resort & Spa, in The Canyons area.

A spokesman for the filmmakers had no comment. A spokesperson for the Sundance Institute said, "Sundance Institute maintains its long-held and firm commitment to freedom of expression, and looks forward to screening this film by an award-winning filmmaker at the opening of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival."