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Sundance Festival Co-founder Admits to Child Molestation in Early 90s

February 10, 2019

His name is Sterling Van Wagenen, and in the avalanche of information snowballing since the Sudance festival announced a fake documentary about Michael Jackson, we are amazed to learn that back in the 90s the co-founder of the Sundance festival admitted to the police and his religious leader that he had molested a 10-year old boy.

The boy, now a grown-up, comes from a family belonging to the Mormon community in Utah where Sterling Van Wagenen is still playing a prominent role. Currently he is a professor and lecturer at Utah University and is a film producer who also makes videos for the LDS endowment ceremony (LDS is the short for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons).

The amazing news comes from Ryan McKnight, who just several days ago (on February 4, 2019) published his story on The Truth & Transparency Foundation, a website authored by two ex-Mormons who also founded Mormon Leaks.

A short summary of Ryan McKnight’s research is reported by Here are some excerpts from it

LDS temple video director, Sundance co-founder admits to child molestation, claims website

by Adam Forgie

Tuesday, February 5th 2019

a7982e1a-fb2b-431f-83d7-0b59330b5af9-large16x9_vanwageneneimdbSterling Van Wagenen. (Photo: IMDB)

(KUTV) — A story published Monday by The Truth & Transparency Foundation, a website founded by two ex-Mormons who also founded Mormon Leaks, claims a co-founder of the Sundance Film Festival and director of two video used in the secretive LDS temple endowment ceremony, admits to molesting a child in the early 1990s.

The abuse allegations are against Sterling Van Wagenen a BYU grad, co-founder of the Sundance Film Festival with Robert Redford, director of the Academy Award winning film “The Trip to Bountiful” and the man who was hired by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to direct new videos for the LDS temple endowment ceremony in 2013.

Van Wagenen is currently a professor and lecturer at The University of Utah.

The website posted an audio recording, allegedly of Sterling Van Wagenen, admitting to the abuse.

“In an audio recording obtained by the Truth & Transparency Foundation (TTF), Van Wagenen describes a double life he lived for decades,” the website’s article on Van Wagenen said. “When asked if he is a pedophile, Van Wagenen denies that label, but admits to multiple extramarital affairs with both men and women. He also admits to one single instance of sex abuse perpetrated on a minor.”

The article, written by TTF founder Ryan McKnight, cites the story of “David” (not his real name) who describes that while at a sleepover with a friend at Van Wagenen’s home in 1993, he woke up to Van Wagenen’s hand down his pants rubbing his penis.

“He jumped up and ran to the bathroom,” McKnight says in the TTF story. “He was scared and did not know what to do. He spent the rest of the night locked in the bathroom and the next 26 years traumatized by the events of that evening.”

“While [Van Wagenen] made a full confession of the crime to both his religious leader and the police, he never completely faced justice,” McKnight says in the story.

The audio recording was made by “David” who reached out to Van Wagenen in September 2018 to help get closure on the traumatic event. The two met in person.

David recorded the conversation he has with Sterling Van Wagenen, which you can listen to above.

“Van Wagenen admits to having ‘acted out sexually’ on many occasions,” McKinght says. “He cites being abused as a child by his mother as a contributing factor to this behavior. On the night of the abusive act, he and his wife were arguing. He went downstairs, where the kids were sleeping, and “acted out” by molesting David.”

David told his parents about the abuse, who then went to a friend of Van Wagenen they knew through their LDS ward (congregation).

The mutual friend then told Stake President Harold Brown about the abuse. Stake Presidents are ecclesiastical leaders over several LDS wards, or congregations.

“According to the David, the friend, who was a Bishop of a nearby, different congregation at the time, encouraged his parents to let the church handle the situation,” McKnight writes.

Van Wagenen claims he fully confessed to what he did during an LDS disciplinary council, which resulted in a two year disfellowshipment from the Church.

“Brown apparently encouraged Van Wagenen to turn himself in to the police,” McKnight writes. “Van Wagenen told David he confessed to a detective and never heard from the police again. He did not recall being told why he was never charged with a crime, but that he always assumed it was because David’s parents declined to press charges.”

The Truth and Transparency Foundation obtained the police reports, which you can read about in their full story here.

David claims the molestation did not happen over his clothing, and says it was not a pat on his penis, but rather a “stroking motion.”

“David tells the TTF that he was never contacted by Harold Brown or anyone else from the Mormon Church to check on his well being,”McKnight writes. “No therapy or other assistance was ever offered to him. As he described in the recording, this trauma has greatly affected his life and he has never fully recovered from what happened.”

So what was Van Wagenen’s involvement with the LDS temple videos?

According to TTF:

“Up until 2013, two videos rotated in these sessions, one was produced in 1988, the other in 1990. In 2013 those two videos were replaced with three brand new films, all directed by Sterling Van Wagenen. Multiple sources involved in the production of these films told the TTF that Van Wagenen was brought in by the Mormon Church to direct these movies in an effort to produce a high quality product.”

In January 2019, the LDS Church discontinued use of the videos after changes to the endowment ceremony.

The temple ceremony now uses an “audiovisual” presentation which uses still images from the Van Wagenen directed temple films.

Van Wagenen has also directed many films though Excel Entertainment, which produces Mormon-themed films.

(UPDATE 2/4/19 3:23 p.m.)  2News reached out to the Sundance Institute, which issued this statement from a spokesperson:

“Sundance Institute always stands in solidarity with those whose brave truth-telling shines light on abusive behavior. Recent reports in the press have made us aware of an admission of sexual abuse by Sterling Van Wagenen, who played a role in founding both the Festival and the Institute. He has no current connection to either entity, and hasn’t since he left our Utah Advisory Board in 1993. We categorically denounce his behavior as described in recent reports.”

We learn more about Sterling Van Wagenen and his victim from Ryan McKnight’s website (excerpts):

Director of Mormon Temple Videos and Sundance Festival Co-founder Admits to Child Molestation in Early 90s

Ryan McKnight

Published February 4, 2019 07:02 am PST

…David, whose name has been changed at his request, sought closure and reached out to his perpetrator through Van Wagenen’s children in an attempt to broker a one-on-one meeting. Van Wagenen agreed to meet with him in September 2018. David, not knowing what to expect, decided to record the conversation. What ensued was a candid conversation in which Van Wagenen was open about the incident and what he thinks may have led to it.

In the recording Van Wagenen says that he was called into see Brown a few days after the abuse. Brown, was not only David’s and Van Wagenen’s ecclesiastical leader, but also the commissioner of LDS Social Services, known today as LDS Family Services, a Mormon-owned non-profit providing members with professional counseling.

Because of this, David seemingly hit the jackpot regarding his chances of finding care and understanding after the traumatic experience. However, that was not the case.

Van Wagenen claims he fully confessed to what he did and that a disciplinary council ensued. The result was a two year disfellowshipment from the Church.

Van Wagenen told David he confessed to a detective and never heard from the police again. He did not recall being told why he was never charged with a crime, but that he always assumed it was because David’s parents declined to press charges.

David denies that the contact was only over his clothing and reports it as a stroking motion, rather than a pat. Additionally, in the recording, he repeatedly said he was ten years old when the abuse happened, but dates on the police reports show that he was actually 13.

Who is Sterling Van Wagenen?

Van Wagenen has been involved in the film industry as a producer and director since the 1970s. In 1985, Geraldine Page was awarded the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her performance in Van Wegenen’s film, The Trip to Bountiful. He worked for BYU from 1993 to 1999 as an Adjunct Professor of Film and then again from 2007 to 2011 as the Director of Content for BYU Broadcasting.

According to a profile published by the Deseret News, he was working in 2011 as an Executive Producer for the Mormon Church. He currently works for the University of Utah and, according to his online employee profile, is overseeing an internship class for the current Spring 2019 semester.

But his roots in cinema are much deeper.

Founding Sundance

In 1976 Van Wagenen and a friend decided to organize a film festival in Salt Lake City, Utah to commemorate the bicentennial celebration of the United States. The idea was to put on wide display an overview of American cinema. To his surprise, it was successful and they decided to host the festival again two years later.

Robert Redford caught wind of the plans and contacted Van Wagenen to get involved. The rest, as they say, is history. The two went on to found the Sundance Institute and Van Wagenen served as the first Executive Director.

Life After Abuse

David tells the TTF that he was never contacted by Harold Brown or anyone else from the Mormon Church to check on his well being. No therapy or other assistance was ever offered to him. As he described in the recording, this trauma has greatly affected his life and he has never fully recovered from what happened.

According to an undated press release from the Mormon Church, counselling is offered to victims of abuse and often paid for by the Church. Somehow, that policy was not put into action in David’s case, even when his Stake President was an integral part of the Church’s social services.

When asked why he decided to make this recording public, David told the TTF that there are several motivating factors.

He is surprised that Van Wagenen has not faced any real consequences for his actions and went on to enjoy church employment that many would consider prestigious and privileged.

He wonders if there are other victims who may feel encouraged to come forward and seek much needed healing.

Finally, he feels that sharing his story could provide hope to many who have suffered similar abuse and feel silenced for one reason or another.

David tells the TTF that he does not blame the Mormon Church for the abuse he suffered, but hopes that his case is an exception to the rule and that the Church normally ensures that perpetrators are held accountable and proper counseling is offered to survivors.

If it is not an exception, he hopes that the Church takes proper steps to address the problem, specifically the issue of providing help for the victim.

So the very short of it is that Van Wagenen abused a ten-year boy, the boy revealed the abuse to his parents, the parents went to their local bishop, the bishop forced Van Wagenen to go to the police and admit his crime, after which he was disallowed from church for two years – and that was it.

And in addition to all that we also learn that Van Wagenen has deep roots in the film industry, is involved in making feature and documentary films and lectures at the Film & Media Arts Department of Utah University.

He was also the co-founder of Sundance festival which coincidentally included into their program a film which is not only a complete fake, but is also a sort of a pedophilia visual that desensitizes the public to child abuse ideas by subjecting viewers to three and a half hours of non-stop extremely graphic descriptions of pedophilia acts (that never happened though).

The report of “Truth and Transparency Foundation” also includes the full transcript of the recording Van Wagenen’s genuine victim made with his abuser just half a year ago, in September 2018, where Van Wagenen admits that he indeed molested the child and is trying to “explain” it by a certain “dark period in his life” (“he quarrelled with his wife”, “was depressed due to problems in business” and other crap).

Sterling in a conversation with 'David' whom he abused as a child

And it is in this transcript that we see some other details which are very much worth thinking about.

The thing that impressed me most is how incredibly easy it is for someone like Robson and Safechuck to go over this text and the accompanying tape, and then apply to themselves the genuine victim’s words, thoughts and feelings while making they fake revelations about Jackson.

Even the transcript manages to convey the pain this boy was going through, which you simply can’t help feeling. So this must be the way the false accusers manage to imitate those emotions and describe those “details” – it is through reading and listening to the accounts of genuine victims that they look so “incredibly credible” as some viewers of the MJ mockumentary claim.

Let me assure you that almost anyone will be able to do the same if they listen to this tape or read the transcript.  

Here are just some excerpts from it. 

The victim talks to Van Wagenen about how painful it was to decide to approach his abuser – the mere idea of it made him sick:

VICTIM: The whole weekend I keep feeling like yeah, let’s just bag it. Every day of the weekend and all weekend, I just felt sick. Why am I doing this to myself, is it really necessary to do this to myself? But it just keeps resurfacing for me.

…I don’t want my past to define me but at the same time, my whole life I’ve wondered. There’s a lot of things I’ve wondered.

..In one sense, it kind of made my childhood from that point forward just changed everything for me.  From that point forward, I started sleeping with a knife at my side. Yeah, a hunting knife. Lots of nightmares, I was always afraid of the dark. I’ve always been afraid of men especially men.

I’ve always been really suspicious of men in the church for some reason, I don’t know if that will make sense. But with what I knew about you being a professor and being a filmmaker and having that kind of notoriety in the church, it always just made me all suspicious of … Not just you, I’ve heard lots of stories about other people….very suspicious for my own kids, anxiety when it comes to my own kids.

His anxiety greatly amplified when he had his own kids:

VICTIM: When my daughter went on the Young Women’s over nighter and I had to talk to every single leader. I had to know who is going to be there and I even had to tell the Bishopric, I don’t want them spending the night up there. Then I can’t sleep. When they’re away from me, you can imagine. Then the emotions range from anger, resentment. Sure. Anxiety…it’s just been an ongoing thing for me.

I think it’s amplified with my own children. … since I’ve had my own kids, it just keeps resurfacing and my kids keep asking me, “Why are you the only dad that’s so paranoid and so suspicious of other people?”

I’ve got a son that’s my age when this happened to me. My son’s about the same age that I was when that happened to me. So it just causes a lot of emotion when I think about him. When I look at him, he looks like me. So when I look at him, it’s like looking at a 10-year-old picture of myself. That’s got to be a confusing experience too given what you’re carrying. Yeah.

He asks Van Wagenen why the church and police didn’t contact his family:

VICTIM:… You went through one of those church courts. Why do you think my parents were never contacted to hear their side of the story? They never talked to my parents and they never talked to me.

My parents, they said that the police never contacted them, never talked to any police. They said the church never contacted them. Then they said if Sterling had done what you just said he had done, that they would’ve just arrested you on the spot for child sex abuse. They don’t need approval to charge that. If someone goes to the police and says I did such and such to a child, according to my parents, they just arrest you on the spot. Bang. Even if my parents said no, no, no, don’t press charges, it doesn’t matter. [that’s true, the law does not allow for an easy dismissal] Once they know that, by law, they have to.

STERLING: Yeah, I don’t know if the laws were the same 25 years ago as they are now. I understand that now. What came back to me and I don’t remember how it came back to me. But was that your parents had said we’re not going to press charges. So I assumed, maybe wrongly, but I assumed from that that they had been contacted by the police detective. Had said that we’re not going to pursue this. But again, I don’t know that for sure, I just don’t that.

The victim asks why he as an abused child never received support from the church:

VICTIM: I’ve always thought if the church knew that you had done that to me and you did tell them that you’d done that to me, then why would the church not have reached out to me? The stake president, his name was Harold Brown. He said that he was a psychologist and the head of the entire church social service program. So I’m sitting there thinking to myself why did they not offer support for me?

Where was there absolutely no concern for my welfare when you told them what you’d done? Why was there no zero concern for a 10-year-old boy? Well, I’d like to know the answer to that question as well.

VICTIM: But you were forthright when you talked in that court, you told him?

STERLING: Totally.

VICTIM: Yeah, okay.

STERLING: Yeah, totally.

The victim remembers the abuse in minute detail. For false victims like Robson and Safechuck it may be a priceless tutorial:

VICTIM:  This is a hard one. Hadn’t I not gotten up and rushed to the bathroom and locked myself in the bathroom, what was your intention for me? Do you remember where your mind was going?

STERLING: Yeah, I do. I actually don’t remember you getting up and going into the bathroom, I don’t remember that.

VICTIM: That’s just horrendous to me. Let me tell you what I remember. I remember you coming over and doing that to me. Then I woke up and saw you doing that to me and then I could see what you were doing and I was frozen. You were reaching up over the top of me. So then I started to – stir almost like okay, I’m going to pretend like I’m waking up. So I started to stir and then you stopped. Then I just laid there frozen and then you came back again. If I remember correctly, it was the third time that you came over and started doing that. Then I jumped up and looked at you. You froze and you were standing in the back of the room and you had a remote control in one of your hands. You were looking at a TV with like black and white movie. There was no sound on it at all. So you almost like you stood there, froze and kind of pretended you were watching a movie with no sound on. Then I ran into the bathroom.

When I was in the bathroom, you came to the door, probably three or four different times. Yeah, and were trying to coax me out of the bathroom. You were saying, “Are you okay? Come on out.” I wouldn’t come out and I just kept saying that I felt really sick. Then after probably three or four different times, you tried to coax me out, then I think once you realized I wasn’t coming out is when you finally maybe went back upstairs, whatever it was. So that’s what I recall distinctly.

So I’ve always thought my whole life if I don’t jump up and go to the bathroom, where’s that? Where are we going with that? Where’s that headed? The reason I wonder that Sterling, is because I feel like that was a smart thing for me to do. Was to run and lock myself in that bathroom. I think what if I was a lesser person, what if I was a more timid person, where was that going? You follow where my logic?

STERLING: Yeah, I follow your logic and I’ve never followed that through in my own head and I’ve just had.

VICTIM: I don’t want to make you say this is what I was going to do to you. But as a victim, I don’t know if it’s normal but I’ve always wondered where were we going to? Where were we going? Where was this headed? How bad would this have progressed to if I hadn’t gotten out of there?

It turns out that Van Wagenen did not report himself voluntarily:

VICTIM: … you’ve already answered a lot of these questions that I have. Okay. How can I know you’re telling the truth? You got caught, you were required to report to the church authorities. You didn’t just voluntarily report yourself. My parents asked to report it directly to the stake president who he had relationship with. You were called in by the stake president, right? So there’s a big difference for me between turning oneself in and confession so to speak and being caught.

STERLING: Well, I actually think and my memory’s fuzzy on this. But I think I had had a conversation with- I think….

VICTIM: … mom and dad have continually told me that the church handled it. Back then, it was that’s what was appropriate. It was appropriate to turn to the church, that’s kind of what you did. I know because I’ve done a lot of reading and so forth and with Sam Young and all these testimonials of bishops abusing little kids and all that stuff. I know that back in that day and age, you were actually encouraged not to go to the police, to go to the bishop. Bishop is the one who handles everything. So cultural then that was really wrong in my opinion.

STERLING: I had a long conversation with the bishop. This has been, I don’t know, six or seven years ago. I told him I was in counseling and- was there and we were getting past it. So no church action was taken.

VICTIM: So you didn’t have to go through a court or anything?

STERLING: I didn’t have to go through a court again, yeah.

They even talk about sexual abuse in the film industry being “commonplace” there and Van Wagenen adds in a matter-of-fact way: “In Hollywood particularly”. So everyone knows about it and no one minds it?

VICTIM: Did you have any sexual interactions with any of the collegiate students that you’ve had as a teacher and a professor?


VICTIM: So this question kind of was answered for me too. It was when there was an interview where you were asked about Harvey Weinstein. Then you said, about his first accusers and you said, I guarantee is only the tip of the iceberg. That kind of stuff is very … Sexual abuse is commonplace in the film industry.

STERLING: In Hollywood particularly.  Yeah, I was asked that question in an interview in South Korea last year.

VICTIM: Then when I read that.

STERLING: You’ve done your research for sure.

VICTIM: Yeah, because I read that and I just want to know who Sterling Van Wagenen is.

Sterling in a conversation with 'David' whom he abused as a child 9

So everyone knows about it and no one minds it?

… Again, as a victim, you can’t help but wonder if there’s other people out there that are hiding and they’re quiet. They’re too scared that they think people won’t believe them. So I’ve always wondered that same thing.

Sterling, when something like this has happened to you, you form a very strong emotional connection with it. So for whatever reason, I got a lot of people come to me and tell me they were sexually abused as children. Then I have that commonality with them and because it’s just a very prevalent problem.

Then also news media, every time I see it. But I don’t think I read it like a normal person, I don’t. I read it and then I think it makes me wonder, it makes me stir and wonder.

Van Wagenen wonders how his victim found out that he makes films for the Temple:

VICTIM: When I talked to *** he said that you were working on Temple videos.

STERLING: How long did you talk to him?

VICTIM: Two days ago [the conversation was in September 2018]. I just wanted to ask him because I was unclear about how that happened with the stake president getting involved. So I said, “my parents were never contacted by the church, we never got to share their side of the story. *** just in passing said that you were working on the Temple videos.

STERLING: Did he respond to your point about the church never contacting your parents? Did he talk about that at all?

VICTIM: He just kept saying, “I have full faith in Harold Brown and I turned it over to Harold. Reported it.” He said, “I don’t know what came of it.” He said, “I wasn’t involved in that church court.” So he just kind of make seem like he just got the information from my dad. He was told in turn to report it, which he did to Harold Brown. That was pretty much it.

But then he did say in passing that … I said I want to make sure that there’s no other victims and that Sterling isn’t hurting anybody. Then he said, “Well, I would sure hope not because he’s working, right now, he’s doing a Temple videos for the church.” He said that on two different occasions.

VICTIM: So then I’ve always wondered if I was just the tip of the iceberg. If I was the tip of the iceberg, right?

STERLING: No, you’re not.

VICTIM: Yeah, those are all the questions that have been on my mind and really on my mind all these years. That’s it.

Initially it looked to me like Van Wagenen was rather truthful in his answers and even had pangs of conscience about what he had done. But gradually it began to sound more like his victimhood and “what a hard time he had to cope with it”. And when it came to the matter of Temple films Van Wagenen definitely began interrogating his victim – instead of the other way around – apparently to find out how much he knows about it.

In other words while the victim is absolutely forthright and even trustful of his abuser, Sterling Van Wagenen increasingly looks like a cat playing with a mouse. At the end of it I even began doubting that he is telling the truth about “one victim only”. In fact, according to Anna Salter, PhD average sex offenders have 150 victims.

But what is absolutely clear in this utterly shady business is that there is something fishy about this Utah connection.

See what we’ve learned about Sterling Van Wagenen, a ‘devout’ Mormon who admitted to having extramarital affairs with both women and men and molesting at least one boy, and who perfectly got away with it:

1) he is a professional film maker who has very deep roots in the film industry

2) he co-founded the Sundance festival and it was this particular festival which at the last minute included into their program a fake film starring Robson and Safechuck in the role of Michael Jackson’s “victims”

3) even one recorded conversation between the abuser and the genuine victim explains to us how easy it is to coach fake victims about their alleged molestation and give them inspiration and ideas to be later expressed in a film.

And in connection with this “Utah thing” it is also interesting to recall that in 1993 Corey Feldman said in his police interview that his molester Jon Grissom had spent some time in Utah too, before returning to California.

Another incredible touch to the matter is that there was a period in Victor Gutierrez’s life when he also stayed in Utah and his parents are said to be Mormons (the proof of it is not easy to find in my innumerable files, so until further confirmation please don’t regard it as a hard fact).

But it was surely Gutierrez who approached the LA Police with an elaborate story about MJ who was allegedly investigated by a certain Hispanic agent who went by the name of Mormon — however when the police approached the FBI, and the FBI made a thorough search for it they found that no such report ever existed.


From what I’ve read about Mormons their views are all about living a very clean way of life, however no one is immune to occasional freaks among their ranks and since their community is so closed it is easy to hush up the misbehavior of some deviants not to compromise everyone else, and the parents may be prone to rely on their leaders for taking action, as the case of Sterling Van Wagenen shows it.

So I really don’t know what stands behind this Utah thing, but it looks like the concentration of Michael Jackson’s vilifiers there is much higher than in other parts of the US.

With the exception of Hollywood, of course, where according to Van Wagenen sexual abuse is “particularly commonplace” and surprise-surprise, it is exactly these people who are so terribly keen on trashing the innocent Jackson.

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