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

Bill Pence, a co-founder of the Telluride Film Festival, passed away on Dec. 6 after a long illness at the age of 82, the Telluride Daily Planet reported on Wednesday.

In 1974, Pence co-founded the fest, along with his wife Stella Pence, film preservationist James Card, and producer Tom Luddy. He was also the co-director and president of the National Film Preserve, which runs the annual festival, which is held in the Colorado town over Labor Day weekend.

He and Stella also founded the Santa Fe Film Festival in New Mexico in 1980 and ran it for three years.

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“Bill’s fire burned so very brightly and touched so many. Those who worked for him did it as much to not disappoint him as to carry on his vision,” wrote Jim Bedford in the Telluride Daily Planet.

“Bill Pence is an almost mythical figure in the landscape of the Telluride Film Festival,” Julie Huntsinger, executive director of the Telluride Film Festival, said in a statement shared with IndieWire. “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.”

After leaving Telluride, Bill and Stella helped program the TCM Classic Film Festival in Los Angeles. TCM was among the first to report Pence’s passing. He is included in their yearly “TCM Remembers” video.

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“One of Bill’s lifelong concerns was for the proper presentation and preservation of 35mm film prints of the world’s great films. During the era when film companies were junking film prints to extract their silver (early films had a silver nitrate content that gave them their sparkle, which is where the term ‘silver screen’ came from), Bill, along with a small group of collectors, went to great lengths (including dumpster-diving) to recover and preserve films that were being trashed,” Bedford wrote in his tribute to Pence.

The prints Pence assembled over more than 50 years is now at the Museum of Modern Art and the Harvard Film Archive in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

From 1965 to 1978, Pence worked as the vice president of film distribution company Janus Films, where he built the library of classic films that served as the basis for the Criterion Collection. He also helped establish Janus Film Festivals, which were popular on college campuses.

He is survived by wife Stella, daughters Zazie and Lara, and four grandchildren.

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