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LDS FILMMAKER DREAMS OF `GIANT JOSHUA'

Published: Friday, Jan. 31 1992 12:00 a.m. MST

Sterling VanWagenen is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and while he has a wide array of movies on his slate to produce and direct, one is a dream project that reflects his heritage, one he's been inching along for years - an adaptation of Maurine Whipple's 1941 novel about Mormon pioneers, "The Giant Joshua."

Considered by VanWagenen to be perhaps the finest Mormon novel ever written, though its forays into polygamy tend to make some members of the church cringe, the book, he says, could make a great movie. "This is the only book I have read about the Mormon experience that, personally, I feel could find a wider audience, a more generalized audience. There may be other stuff I don't know, but this is the only piece I've ever read."As to his efforts to get it off the ground, he says, "There has been some movement on it. The project is still alive and has not died a death of old age yet. Before I retire from making movies - which may be not too long now - I'd still like to take another run at it. And I still think it's do-able."

VanWagenen says there are many obstacles - Westerns are generally out of favor at the box office, and they are quite costly to make. "The budget's always been too high. But in a way, (the success of) `The Black Robe' and `Dances With Wolves' were encouraging to me."

And there is the matter of guiding it with a sensitive hand, so as not to offend church authorities. After a pause, VanWagenen jokes, "Well, I think if I get `The Giant Joshua' made, that may be the end of my invitations to teach classes at BYU."

He is sincere and enthusiastic, however, in his desire to leave behind a film that addresses the Mormon experience. "Before I die I'd like to make one movie that's about my own culture and my own background." - Chris Hicks

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