AP

Sundance Film Festival co-founder pleads guilty to sex abuse

May 1, 2019, 6:08 AM | Updated: 7:31 am
Rick Egan

 pleads guilty during his initial appearance in 4th District Court in American Fork on T...
Rick Egan pleads guilty during his initial appearance in 4th District Court in American Fork on Tuesday, April 30, 2019.

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.

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.

Today’s Top Stories

AP

A female bison and calf are seen near the Yellowstone River in Wyoming's Hayden Valley, on Wednesda...
Mark Jones

2nd visitor in 3 days gored by Yellowstone National Park bison

In less than a week, two visitors to Yellowstone National Park have been gored by bison. Park officials say to stay at least 25 yards away from a bison.
1 day ago
Travelers wait in for a TSA security check at the Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles,...
DAVID KOENIG ASSOCIATED PRESS

Pre-pandemic sized crowds descend on US airports for holiday

TSA is reporting crowds of pre-pandemic size are traveling this Independence Day.
1 day ago
Residents stand in front of building destroyed by missiles in Ukraine...
FRANCESCA EBEL Associated Press

Russian missiles kill at least 19 in Ukraine’s Odesa region

The Ukrainian president's office said three Kh-22 missiles fired by Russian bombers struck an apartment building and a campsite.
1 day ago
Ketanji Brown Jackson takes the oath for the Supreme Court....
MARK SHERMAN Associated Press

Jackson sworn in, becomes 1st Black woman on Supreme Court

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, 51, will be sworn as the court's 116th justice Thursday, just as the man she is replacing, Justice Stephen Breyer, retires.
2 days ago
The Supreme Court is pictured. The court just limited the EPA...
MARK SHERMAN Associated Press

Supreme Court limits EPA in curbing power plant emissions

The Supreme Court on Thursday limited how the nation's main anti-air pollution law can be used to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.
2 days ago
President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference on the final day of the NATO summit in Madrid, ...
DARLENE SUPERVILLE and ZEKE MILLER Associated Press

Biden says transatlantic alliance has adapted to new threats

Biden's comments came at a press conference in Madrid at the conclusion of the annual meeting of NATO leaders and after he attended a summit with the Group of Seven advanced democratic economies in the Bavarian Alps.
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Tax Harassment...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
Prescription opioids can be disposed of during National Prescription Take Back Day...
Know Your Script

Prescription opioid misuse | How to protect your family from the opioid epidemic

Studies have shown that prescription opioid misuse has increased since COVID-19. So what do you need to know about these opioids?
national heart month...
Intermountain Healthcare

National Heart Month: 5 Lifestyle Changes to Make Today to Keep You Heart Healthy

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease
Joseph Smith Memorial Building...
Temple Square

The Joseph Smith Memorial Building is an icon of Salt Lake City | Why hosting an event at this beautiful location will make you a hero this year

Here's why hosting an event at the iconic Joseph Smith Memorial Building in downtown Salt Lake City will make you a hero this year.
Sundance Film Festival co-founder pleads guilty to sex abuse