Pence co-founded the festival in 1974 with his wife Stella, film preservationist James Card, producer Tom Luddy and the Telluride Council for the Arts and Humanities. He also served as co-director and president of the National Film Preserve, which continues to operate the Telluride Film Festival annually.
More from Variety
“Bill Pence is an almost mythical figure in the landscape of the Telluride Film Festival. An incredibly generous founder but any single description isn’t enough,” Julie Huntsinger, executive director of the Telluride Film Festival, said in a statement shared with Variety. “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.”
A native of Minneapolis, Pence worked as an usher in the city’s movie palaces growing up. He joined and ran the student film society at Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon University) in the ’50s, where he presented a regular film program to students. After college, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and served for several years.
From 1965 to 1978, Pence worked as the vice president of Janus Films in New York. He was instrumental in growing its collection that later served as the basis for the Criterion Collection.
For 33 years, the Pences helped program and expand the Telluride Film Festival until their retirement in 2006. They also created the Santa Fe Film Festival in 1980, which ran for three years.
After their Telluride exit, Pence and his wife were recruited by Turner Classic Movies to help organize and run the TCM Classic Film Festival. For over 50 years, Pence assembled a collection of film prints that currently resides at the Museum of Modern Art and the Harvard Film Archive.
In addition to his wife, Pence is survived by his daughters Zazie and Lara and four grandchildren.