Latter-day Saint filmmaker who admitted molesting boy resigns from University of Utah faculty

Sterling Van Wagenen on the set of “The Work and the Glory: American Zion” in 2005.

Latter-day Saint filmmaker Sterling Van Wagenen — placed on leave by the University of Utah after the release of an audio recording of him admitting he molested a 13-year-old boy in 1993 — has resigned as a film professor at the school.

A spokeswoman for the College of Fine Arts confirmed that Van Wagenen “will not be returning to work at the university.”

A faculty member in the U.’s Department of Film and Media Arts, Van Wagenen was placed on administrative leave a month ago when the Truth & Transparency Foundation — the nonprofit behind the MormonLeaks website — released a recording that Van Wagenen’s victim secretly made during a conversation with the filmmaker last year. In it, Van Wagenen says he is “sorry I did that damage to you” when he fondled the then-13-year-old during a sleepover with Van Wagenen’s children, adding that “it was a really dark time for me” filled with personal and professional problems.

“That night, I was acting out sexually and that what was going on with me,” Van Wagenen says in the recording. “The pain was just so great. I was trying to find a way to make a connection, a way to stop the pain. You were the victim, I’m so sorry for that.”

Van Wagenen said he confessed in 1993 to police and to his lay leaders in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints leaders; he was never criminally charged but was disfellowshipped — a penalty less than excommunication — by the Utah-based faith, a penalty the victim told The Salt Lake Tribune was “unbelievably lenient. ... I’ve always wondered why I was not offered any support or counseling or therapy. Nothing.”

Also in 1993, Van Wagenen was hired as adjunct professor of film at LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University, a position he held for six years. Van Wagenen was director of content for BYU Broadcasting from 2007 to 2010, and, in 2013, he directed three films used in Latter-day Saint temple ceremonies.

In 1978, Van Wagenen co-founded what would become the Sundance Film Festival; he became the founding executive director of the Sundance Institute in 1981 and left the 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.