Sundance Film Festival co-founder sentenced to minimum of six years for child sex offences

FILE - In this April 30, 2019 file photo Sterling Van Wagenen, left, pleads guilty during his initial appearance in American Fork, Utah. Wagenen, who co-founded the Sundance Film Festival and produced a movie whose lead actress won an Oscar in the mid-1980s has been sentenced on Tuesday, July 2, 2019, to at least six years in prison after pleading guilty to sexual abuse of a child. (Rick Egan/The Salt Lake Tribune, via AP, Pool, File)
Sterling Van Wagenen (Credit: Rick Egan/The Salt Lake Tribune, via AP)

Sterling Van Wagenen, who co-founded the Sundance Film Festival with Robert Redford, has been sentenced after pleading guilty to sexually abusing a child.

The 72-year-old film former producer will serve between six years and life in prison for abusing a young girl on two occasions, once in 2013 when she was seven, and again in 2015 when she was nine.

In sentencing Van Wagenen, Judge Robert Griffin said that he hoped that the parole board would keep him in prison for longer than the minimum six years.

He also commended the victim for coming forward.

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“You did the right thing and you’re not responsible for anything that happened and anything that will happen,” he said. “You’re a brave young lady.”

Van Wagenen, who pleaded guilty as part of a deal with prosecutors, did not apologise for his actions.

“It’s clear that any kind of apology I can make is meaningless at this point,” Van Wagenen said.

“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.”

January 26, 2018-Park City utah: Egyptian theater which is one of many theaters showing movies for the Sundance film festival
The Egyptian Theater in Park City, one of the Sundance venues (Credit: Getty)

In a statement from the unnamed victim, read out by her sister, she said: “I strongly believe the only thing you were actually torn up about is the fact that you got caught.”

Van Wagenen, who directed four movies, one of which, The Trip To Bountiful, won an Oscar for actress Geraldine Page in 1985, helped found the Sundance Film Festival in 1978 and the Sundance Institute in 1979, and was formerly the head of Robert Redford's film company Wildwood.

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But he has not been involved in the festival for more than 20 years.

“Recent reports in the press have made us aware of allegations of sexual abuse by Sterling Van Wagenen, who played a role in founding both the Festival and the Institute,” said the Sundance Institute spokesperson in a statement to Deadline.

“He has no current connection to either entity, and hasn’t since he left our Utah Advisory Board in 1993. Sundance Institute categorically denounces his behavior as described in recent reports, and we stand in solidarity with those whose brave truth-telling shines light on abusive behavior.”