Bill Pence, the co-founder of the Telluride Film Festival, died on Dec. 6 after a long illness, the Telluride Daily Planet reported Wednesday. He was 82.
The first festival was held in 1974 in the Sheridan Opera House in Telluride, Colorado. It was started by the Telluride Council for the Arts and Humanities, Bill and Stella Pence, Tom Luddy and James Card. It continues to be operated annually by the National Film Preserve.
“Bill Pence is an almost mythical figure in the landscape of the Telluride Film Festival,” Julie Huntsinger, executive director of Telluride Film Festival, said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter. “An incredibly generous founder but any single description isn’t enough. A showman, a visionary, a great leader, a film buff — all of these things and more. But most importantly of all, Bill was a great person. Kind and smart and a wonderful father and husband. We continue to be inspired by his example and vow to continue the important work of film appreciation.”
Pence, who was born in Minneapolis, immersed himself in films since his first job, where he ushered in the city’s movies palaces. In college, when he ran the student film society, his interest was piqued when he saw Harold Lloyd’s The Freshman for the first time. He then proceeded to start his career as a promoter, where he would present a regular film program to students, calling them “festivals.”
After graduation, Pence enlisted in the U.S. Air Force for several years. Following his release, Pence worked as a vp at New York’s Janus Films, focusing on growing the new and classic Janus film collection, which later served as the basis for the Criterion Collection, according to the newspaper.
Once he moved to Denver and met his wife, Stella, that’s when the Telluride Film Festival started to come to life, in 1974, with the help of his friend and film historian Card and Pacific Archive Director Luddy.
For the next three decades, they worked to expand the festival and change the movie business, until Bill and Stella retired from the festival in 2006. In 1980, Bill and Stella also created and ran the Santa Fe Film Festival for three years.
Following their Telluride exit, the Pences were recruited to help organize the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival, which continues to run in Los Angeles.
“Our festival owes them both so much,” TCM general manager Pola Chagnon told THR.
The collection of film prints that Pence gathered over his 50-year career is now at the Museum of Modern Art and the Harvard Film Archive.
Pence is survived by his wife Stella, daughters Zazie and Lara, and his four grandchildren.