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Interview with Lauren Greenfield, Director of Queen of Versailles

Features
by Melissa Silverstein
July 20, 2012 12:51 PM
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WaH: I had empathy for him but you still think he's an ass.

LG: I think it's kind of a Rorschach test, people respond differently.  For me as he goes deeper and deeper into a depression you also see that he has the world on his shoulders and Jackie is still flitting around in her fantasy world.  They both have endearing qualities and they both have qualities that show their flaws and you see the real struggle that they are going through.  I think people in the scenes you are talking about have that reaction to David and I had an evolution in my relationship with him.   In that first scene when he is on the gold throne and he is bragging about getting George W. Bush elected he is very boastful and he is somewhat intimidating.  When he opens up that kind of made me love him in a filmmaker subject kind of way because here was this powerful man who was allowing himself to be vulnerable.  So I guess I have a different feeling about that.

WaH: The house is a character.  How was it like having a character that was not a person?

LG: That was my idea from the beginning.  The house was one of the things I fell in love with at the beginning.  I loved the photographic representations of how David and Jackie presented themselves.  Yhey always did these Christmas Cards they would blow up and also commissioned portraits of themselves.  There is this portrait of David and Jackie where he is in a king's robe.  I'm as always excited by the decor in the house and wanted that to be a part of the film.

WaH: Did you tell the story that you expected to tell?

LG: I didn't tell the story I expected to tell but I ended up telling a more compelling and universal story.   It was a deeper cut on what I started out going for because I started out looking at the American dream and our values and then it ended up becoming a morality tale of the consequences of that dream.  It ended up being more affecting and I also think that people might not have related to David and Jackie if it had just stayed kind of up there.

WaH: What was the biggest challenge in making the film. 

LG: We had huge financial challenges.  It was totally by hook and by crook on every trip.  At the beginning nobody could understand why I was interested in this story.  It wasn't until their story changed that people even began to get interested in it and by then things were happening so fast that I couldn't wait for the funding.  It was a real struggle along the way.  In the documentary world a lot of the granting organizations have pretty limited social issue agenda and films about rich people do not fit into that.  I think it ended up being a blessing to stay independent.  This is the first film I've had in the theaters.  It is very exciting.  Quite frankly if a broadcaster had come in with all the money before Sundance we probably would have had to did it.  The story is so compelling that is what drives me.  I knew it was important and the access was special and that it was an important story for our times.  And my husband who's an executive producer fully supported that.  It was crazy though.

WaH: What did you learn about yourself form this experience?

LG:  I learned a lot about filmmaking.  I brought this film to the Sundance lab and worked with great editors and it was transformational.  I took a hard look at the problems and continued to shoot afterwards and also really grew as a filmmaker.  It is a much different film than I have ever done before and it is the first film to bring the voice of my photography into filmmaking.

WaH: Any advice for other female filmmakers?

LG: The advice that I got in college that I still totally believe in is follow your heart.    Even though financially doing an independent project is hard, creatively was the best thing in the world.  There was total freedom, a mandate to tell your story and no one to blame but yourself for whatever you don't achieve. 

The Queen of Versailles is now playing in select theatres. 

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