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Utah filmmaker Tim Nelson, whose specialty was wholesome movies with positive messages, died Tuesday after a long battle with cancer. He was 53.

"When he got involved in filmmaking, it absolutely became his passion," said Leigh von der Esch, managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism and Film, who worked with Nelson at Sunn Classic Pictures in the late 1970s.

Nelson's films — most of them released through the Murray company Feature Films for Families — told uplifting stories of people dealing with tough choices in life.

"There was always a lesson to be learned, something that either made you think better or strive differently," von der Esch said, adding that Nelson always presented those messages with a dose of good humor.

In the 1997 film "No More Baths!," a 10-year-old starts a protest to protect an elderly neighbor's land from greedy developers. "Who Gets the House?" released in 1999, tells the story of a married couple in the midst of separating, whose children scheme to get them back together.

In 2001's "The Penny Promise," which Nelson directed with T.C. Christensen, a young man works to keep his vow to save $10,000 before marrying his sweetheart. In 2002's "Jumping for Joy," which won awards at several film festivals, focuses on a tomboy who leads her school's boys basketball team to the championship — until a court order benches her.

Nelson had filmed "The Assignment" last year in American Fork, and was finishing post-production work. It's scheduled to be released on DVD in December.

Nelson was chairman of the Motion Picture Association of Utah, lobbying to boost the state's tax incentive for motion-picture production, even while undergoing treatment for cancer. "The wellness and care of the motion picture industry in Utah was always paramount for him," von der Esch said.

According to Jeff Miller, director of production at Vineyard Productions, Nelson believed in helping new filmmaking talent find work in Utah.

"You could call Tim Nelson and he would have a recommendation, and help get your foot in the door," said Miller, who worked with Nelson on feature films and hundreds of TV commercials. "Tim's had a real hand in convincing young people to stay in Utah and hone their skills here."

Miller noted that Nelson hired Jared Hess, than a Brigham Young University student, as a second assistant camera person on "No More Baths!" Hess went on to direct the hit comedy "Napoleon Dynamite."

Nelson was president of Stepping Stones Entertainment, an online DVD service that specialized in family films. He also cofounded the Salt Lake Children's Film Festival, an event that ran from 2002 to 2004. "He had a real interest, a soft spot, for family entertainment," Miller said.

Nelson's résumé includes work as an actor, serving on the organizing board of the U.S. Film Festival — which later became the Sundance Film Festival — and making trailers for the festival in the '80s and early '90s.

Nelson is survived by his wife, Debi, and their three children, T.J., Kathryn and Anni. He is also survived by his parents, Floyd and Dee Nelson, and siblings Greg, Judy, Barbara, Bob, Wendy and Amy.

A funeral service is scheduled for Saturday at 6 p.m. at Starks Funeral Parlor, 3651 S. 900 East, Millcreek. A wake is scheduled later that evening. The family is requesting, in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to the Children's Justice Center.