Sundance Film Festival co-founder pleads guilty to sex abuse

Combined Shape

AMERICAN FORK, Utah (AP) — A filmmaker who co-founded the Sundance Film Festival and produced an Oscar-winning movie in the mid-1980s pleaded guilty Tuesday to sexual abuse of a child.

Sterling Van Wagenen, 71, entered the plea as part of an agreement that includes a sentence of six years to life. He plans to plead guilty to a second charge involving the same victim later this week, his attorney Steven Shapiro said.

His acceptance of the plea deal was a surprise since he had just been charged earlier this month and it came during his first court appearance. Shapiro said his client decided to waive his right to other hearings to resolve the case quickly and avoid further harm to his family.

Van Wagenen wanted to “acknowledge wrongful conduct,” Shapiro said.

Prosecutors charged Van Wagenen with inappropriately touching a girl between the ages of 7 and 9 on two occasions between 2013 and 2015 in two northern Utah cities.

Trending:
US Chamber of Commerce Defies Biden, Calls for Termination of Weekly Unemployment Perk

He is scheduled to be formally sentenced on July 2.

Van Wagenen co-founded a Utah film festival that came to be known as Sundance Film Festival with Robert Redford and was the Sundance Institute’s founding executive director, but hasn’t been with the organization for more than two decades.

He was a producer on the 1985 film “The Trip to Bountiful,” a story of an elderly woman who longs to return to her home that earned the late actress Geraldine Page an Academy Award for her starring performance.

He has worked over the years as a film instructor at the University of Utah and Brigham Young University and as a director and producer for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on a variety of projects, including temple videos.

Van Wagenen resigned from his part-time instructor position at the University of Utah’s Film and Media Arts Department on Feb. 15 after being put on administrative leave on Feb. 5, university spokesman Chris Nelson said.

Van Wagenen’s resignation came after a man came forward to accuse Van Wagenen of molesting him as a boy in 1993. No charges have been filed in that case, which was made public by a website that serves as a watchdog for The Church of Jesus of Latter-day Saints, widely known as the Mormon church.

He was the executive director of the 2018 historical tale “Jane and Emma” about a black woman’s friendship with the wife of Joseph Smith, the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Western Journal has not reviewed this Associated Press story prior to publication. Therefore, it may contain editorial bias or may in some other way not meet our normal editorial standards. It is provided to our readers as a service from The Western Journal.

Truth and Accuracy

Submit a Correction →






We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.

Tags:
The Associated Press is an independent, not-for-profit news cooperative headquartered in New York City. Their teams in over 100 countries tell the world’s stories, from breaking news to investigative reporting. They provide content and services to help engage audiences worldwide, working with companies of all types, from broadcasters to brands.
The Associated Press was the first private sector organization in the U.S. to operate on a national scale. Over the past 170 years, they have been first to inform the world of many of history's most important moments, from the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the bombing of Pearl Harbor to the fall of the Shah of Iran and the death of Pope John Paul.

Today, they operate in 263 locations in more than 100 countries relaying breaking news, covering war and conflict and producing enterprise reports that tell the world's stories.
Location
New York City




Conversation