Bill Pence, Telluride Film Festival Co-Founder, Dies at 82

Bill Pence, Telluride Film Festival Co-Founder, Dies at 82

“We continue to be inspired by his example and vow to continue the important work of film appreciation,” said Julie Huntsinger, exec director of the festival.

Bill Pence, the co-founder of the Telluride Film Festival, died on December 6 after a long illness, the Telluride Daily Planet reported Wednesday. He was 82.

The first Telluride 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, said in a statement. “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. 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 promoter, presenting regular film program to students, calling them “festivals.”

After graduation, Pence enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. After his release, Pence worked at New York’s Janus Films, growing the new and classic Janus film collection, which later served as the basis for the Criterion Collection.

He moved to Denver and established the Telluride Film Fest, in 1974, with the help 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 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 Fest, which continues to run in Los Angeles.

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.