Sundance Co-Founder Hears His Fate for Child Sex Abuse

Sterling Van Wagenen, 72, pleaded guilty to touching girl twice, gets at least 6 years in prison
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 3, 2019 8:29 AM CDT
He Co-Founded Sundance. Now, Jail for Child Sex Abuse
In this April 30, 2019, file photo, Sterling Van Wagenen, left, pleads guilty during his initial appearance in American Fork, Utah.   (Rick Egan/The Salt Lake Tribune, via AP, Pool, File)

A filmmaker who co-founded the Sundance Film Festival and produced a movie whose lead actress won an Oscar in the mid-1980s was sentenced Tuesday to at least six years in prison after pleading guilty to sexual abuse of a child. The judge who delivered the sentence of six years to life said he hopes the parole board will keep 72-year-old Sterling Van Wagenen in prison longer than the minimum, per the AP. He pleaded guilty earlier this year to two counts of sexual abuse of a child, both involving the same victim, as part of a plea deal. Prosecutors say Van Wagenen touched a young girl on two occasions between 2013 and 2015. "It's clear that any kind of apology I can make is meaningless at this point," Van Wagenen said in speaking to the victim and her family. "So I am not even going to attempt one. I want you all to know I feel the consequences of what I've done. I feel them deeply."

Van Wagenen co-founded a Utah film festival that came to be known as the Sundance Film Festival (Robert Redford was the fest's first board chairman) and was the Sundance Institute's founding executive director, though he hasn't been with the organization for more than 20 years. He was also 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 Oscar. Van Wagenen resigned from his part-time instructor position at the University of Utah's Film and Media Arts Department on Feb. 15, a university spokesman says. Van Wagenen's resignation came after a man accused Van Wagenen of molesting him as a boy in 1993. No charges were filed in that case. (More child sex abuse stories.)

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