Remembers Van Wagenen: "When the whole thing was over I went back down to Sundance thinking that I'll talk to Bob and he'll write a check and fix this. I showed him all the press clippings, the national publicity and then added, Oh, by the way we went over budget by $20,000 and that's about as far as I got. Bob said, 'you know, I've been thinking about starting some kind of film center here at Sundance that would be devoted to these independent filmmakers. Is that something you'd be interested in?' I said that interested me a lot. He said 'great,' stood up, walked out of the room and that was the end of the meeting. I was a little confused. I thought, well, I didn't get my money, but I got a job."
From that meeting, the Sundance Institute was created, Sterling Van Wagenen became its first director, and by 1985 the Institute rescued the still standing but still financially struggling Utah/U.S. Film & Video Festival. Sterling had his baby back. In 1991 the name was changed to Sundance.
Van Wagenen left the Sundance Institute and the Sundance Film Festival years ago and has made his own name as a filmmaker. Among his many producing successes is "A Trip to Bountiful," a Sundance hit and an Academy Award winner for Geraldine Page as Best Actress. Currently, at 63, he lives in Utah Valley and works as an executive producer for the LDS Church while still pursuing his own independent projects.
He'll be part of the Sundance buzz the next 10 days, albeit a limited part.
"I'll get up to the festival and have dinner with friends and maybe see two or three films," he says. "I've really been away from it for a very long time. It was a great and hugely important part of my life and my early career and I'll always be grateful for that."
He buys his tickets "like everybody else" and parks his car "like everybody else."
And if no one recognizes him, he's fine with that.
"I just don't have the inclination to go back and remind everybody, you know this is how it all started," he says. "The benefit for me isn't to continue to relive the creation story. They want to identify this as Robert Redford's film festival but Bob has always been very generous about remembering the people who were there in the very beginning. It's a great part of my life that has now moved into the wake. I'm just happy this thing is still alive."
Lee Benson's About Utah columns runs Monday and Friday.
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