You’d never know documentary films account for only a fraction of the box office by this week’s sneak preview of “The Queen of Versailles.”
Among the throngs packed into E Street Cinema on Monday evening were two Cabinet secretaries, along with the usual policy wonks, what remains of the cinema press corps and friends and family of the filmmaker. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood were on hand for the screening, which follows the story of the building of the largest single-family dwelling in the United States, the “Versailles” of the film’s title in Orlando, Fla. Where’s the drama in that, you might ask? Well, it seems the owner, timeshare magnate David Siegel, and his extremely colorful wife, Jackie, got in a little over their heads on the mortgage. And while that applies to quite a few people in the United States during the past couple of years, when the mortgage is on a 90,000-square-foot house (that’s not a misprint), well, there’s a potential for drama.
Filmmaker Lauren Greenfield, who started filming when the Siegels were flying high and continued with their story through the 2008 financial crash to the present day, was on hand for a Q-and-A after the show with Donovan, hosted by the Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart. She went to Harvard University with Donovan and has remained friends with the secretary, who was a natural fit to talk about the film.
“It’s too good a movie to only take one lesson,” Donovan said, responding to a question from Capehart about what one lesson viewers could take from the film. “To me, it’s not a housing lesson, unfortunately. … It is really about values. It’s about asking ourselves when we have enough.”
LaHood “thought it was great,” adding that folks in his hometown of Peoria, Ill., would likely have a tough time relating to the Siegels, even if some of their problems, in context, were similar. “Those people were, like, from another planet.”