A Utah filmmaker who admitted in an audio interview to molesting a 13-year-old boy in 1993 has been charged with aggravated sexual abuse of a young girl in a more recent case.
Sterling Van Wagenen has been charged with one count of aggravated sexual abuse of a child, a first-degree felony, in 3rd District Court in West Jordan.
The girl was between 7 and 9 years old when the abuse allegedly occurred between 2013 and 2015, according to a probable cause statement. It said the girl told her parents that Van Wagenen had inappropriately touched her twice: once in her home in Salt Lake County and once at a location in Utah County. Van Wagenen touched the girl under her clothing in one of the encounters, the statement said.
Van Wagenen posted $75,000 in bail Monday, according to court records.
The charge comes after Van Wagenen’s admission in an audio interview that was released in February by the Truth & Transparency Foundation. In that interview, Van Wagenen said he had reached under a 13-year-old boy’s pants in 1993, when the boy was at a sleepover at a friend’s house. Van Wagenen was the friend’s father.
Van Wagenen said in the interview that he admitted to the abuse then to police and to his lay leaders in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He never faced criminal charges but was disfellowshipped — a penalty short of excommunication — from his faith.
“I went through the church disciplinary process and was disfellowshipped for about two years,” Van Wagenen told the foundation, the nonprofit group behind the MormonLeaks website. “I repented and there were no further incidents. I reported the abuse to the police, as I was instructed to by my stake president, and the parents elected not to press charges.”
The audio interview was recorded in 2018 by Van Wagenen’s now-adult victim, 25 years after the fact.
Van Wagenen was once a leading figure in Utah’s movie world. In 1978, he co-founded the Utah/U.S. Film Festival, which grew to become the Sundance Film Festival. He was named the founding executive director of the Sundance Institute in 1981, hired by his cousin’s then-husband, actor-filmmaker Robert Redford.
Van Wagenen’s involvement with Sundance ended when he left the nonprofit’s Utah advisory board in 1993.
Van Wagenen was a producer of the 1985 film “The Trip to Bountiful,” for which Geraldine Page won a best-actress Oscar. His directing credits include “Alan & Naomi,” the second and third installments of “The Work and the Glory” — based on author Gerald N. Lund’s fictionalized accounts of early Mormonism — and an episode of the BYUtv series “Granite Flats.”
He was executive producer of the 2018 film “Jane and Emma” about the friendship between Emma Smith, wife of church founder Joseph Smith, and African American convert Jane Manning James.
After the recording became public in February, Van Wagenen resigned a professorship at the University of Utah’s Film & Media Arts Department. The Salt Lake Film Society severed ties with Van Wagenen, who was an adviser to the nonprofit’s Media Accelerator Studio.