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9 Mormon moments in Sundance Film Festival history

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From Jan. 22 to Feb. 1, all eyes are on the ski resort haven of Park City. This year's Sundance Film Festival is full of thought-provoking and interesting films as usual that explore various themes. People from all over the world are flocking to the snow-capped mountains of Utah to seek warmth in the theaters while seeing a great film or hanging out on Park City's Main Street seeking out autographs from and selfies with the celebs in town.

LDS filmmakers, producers and writers have a long history of being featured at the annual film festival co-founded by actor and Academy Award-winning director Robert Redford — from Sundance's origins to this year's films by Jared and Jerusha Hess of "Napoleon Dynamite" fame and documentary filmmaker Greg Whiteley.

Here are nine Mormon moments in Sundance Film Festival history.

1. 1970s - The origins of Sundance with Robert Redford


The Sundance Film Festival was the original idea of Mormon and Brigham Young University graduate Sterling Van Wagenen who, while working for the Utah Arts Council in the '70s, wanted a new type of film festival in Utah focusing on showcasing independent films.

Enter the legendary Robert Redford, who at the time was married to Van Wagenen's cousin, who got in touch with Sterling and agreed to be on the board of the first U.S. Film Festival in Salt Lake City in 1978. The first independent film festival was to award cash prizes, the festival went overbudget, but was rescued by the creation of the Sundance Institute in 1985 based out of Redford's Sundance resort near Provo. The U.S. Film Festival became the Sundance Film Festival in 1991 and set up camp in cold and beautiful Park City.

2. 1980s - Sundance Film Festival screenings were originally screened at the BYU Motion Picture Studio


Before making its permanent home base in Park City, the Sundance Film Festival in its most nascent days had submissions initially screened at the Motion Picture Studio at Brigham Young University. The studio, which in 1954 was located where BYU's Bookstore now stands, separated from BYU and became the LDS Motion Picture Studio in 1991.

3. 2004 - "Napoleon Dynamite"


The indie film about a tall and interesting teenager in Idaho named Napoleon Dynamite, which would end up becoming one of the most quotable and GIF-able films of all time, made its premiere at Sundance in 2004.

Jared and Jerusha, a Mormon husband-and-wife-team who are both BYU graduates, cast fellow Mormon and BYU graduate Jon Heder in the lead role as the bespectacled high schooler with the massive fro who loves tater tots, drawing fantastical beasts and impressing everyone with his "freakin' sweet" dance moves.

4. 2005 - "New York Doll" by Greg Whiteley


Then up-and-coming documentary filmmaker and BYU graduate Greg Whiteley's documentary discussed the life of Arther "Killer" Kane, former bassist for punk rock band New York Dolls and his conversion from hard-partying rock star to member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Los Angeles.

Featuring interviews with Kane, fellow New York Dolls members David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain along with rock legends Morrissey, Iggy Pop and Chrissy Hynde along with the LDS leaders in Kane's life, Whiteley's very cool and powerful documentary won the festival's Grand Jury Prize in 2005.

5. 2013 - "Austenland" by Shannon Hale


A New York Times best-selling author of children's books and young-adult novels, Shannon Hale made her Sundance debut in 2013 with her film "Austenland" based on her novel of the same name.

Starring Keri Russell, the film is about a devoted fanatic of English novelist Jane Austen who obsesses over "Pride and Prejudice" character Mr. Darcy and yearns to find her own "Mr. Darcy." After yet another failed relationship, Russell's character goes big and travels to a British resort called Austenland.

6. 2013 - Stephanie Meyer and the Hess team help make "Austenland" happen


The transition of "Austenland" from Sundance feature to major motion picture was done in large part to the backing and help from Hale's fellow Mormons in the film industry who are all BYU graduates.

"Twilight" author Stephanie Meyer produced the film and the direction and screenwriting credits went to husband-and-wife team Jared and Jerusha Hess respectively, with the Hess team most well-known for their Sundance darling "Napoleon Dynamite" and "Nacho Libre."

7. 2014 - "Mitt" by Greg Whiteley


Seven years after rocking Sundance with "New York Doll," filmmaker Whiteley returned last year with his in-depth documentary of Mormon and former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney.

Focusing on Romney's six-year quest to become the first Mormon president of the United States leading up to the 2012 presidential election and everything that he and his family went through along the journey, Whiteley gave an honest portrait of the multimillionaire businessman and 2012 Republican presidential nominee. The documentary premiered on Netflix last January.

8. 2015 - "Don Verdean" - Jared and Jerusha Hess


This year, the husband-and-wife Hess team return to Sundance with "Don Verdean," about a man of great faith who, after traveling around the globe searching for artifacts relating to Jesus Christ, spreads the gospel out of his RV. When a chance for his business to flourish puts money on Verdean's mind and leads him down the wrong path, he re-evaluates his life and its meaning.

The movie stars Jemaine Clement, Sam Rockwell, Leslie Bibb and Danny McBride and was first shown at the Eccles Theatre in Park City on Jan. 28. To see the full schedule and to buy tickets, click here.

9. 2015 - "Most Likely to Succeed" by Greg Whiteley


A year after the success of "Mitt," established Sundance filmmaker Whiteley returns with "Most Likely to Succeed," which focuses on the nationwide problem of college graduates and unemployment.

With an inside look at charter schools like High Tech High School in San Diego, California, Whiteley explores the difference between schools that focus on SAT scores and those like High Tech High that focus on project-based learning. The film, which features fellow Mormon and "Jeopardy" champion Ken Jennings, was first shown at the Prospector Square Theatre in Park City on Jan. 25. To see the full schedule and to buy tickets, click here.

Maureen "Mo" Elinzano is a grad student at BYU, Content Writer for DeseretNews.com, and a BuzzFeed Contributor. She is a graduate of New York University and worked for Us Weekly, ELLE Magazine and The Huffington Post. Email: cali3531@hotmail.com