Original Telluride founder Bill Pence dead at 82

Pence, who was also a former film director at Dartmouth College, died on December 6 after falling ill.

Bill Pence, the film curator and theater operator best known as one of the founders of the Telluride Film Festival, died on December 6 after a long illness, IndieWire has confirmed. He was 82.

Pence co-founded Telluride in 1974 with his wife Stella Pence, James Card and Tom Luddy, which was held annually over Labor Day weekend in the city of Colorado. In 1974 he was co-director and president of the National Film Preserve, which hosts the annual festival. Pence also founded the 1980 Santa Fe Film Festival with his wife Stella, which they ran for three years.

“Bill Pence is an almost mythical figure in the Telluride Film Festival landscape,” said Julie Huntsinger, executive director of the Telluride Film Festival, in a statement shared with IndieWire. “An incredibly generous founder, but a single description is not enough. A showman, a visionary, a great leader, a movie buff – all those things and more. But most 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 pledge to continue the important work of film appreciation.”

Born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Pence initially worked as an usher in movie theaters across the city. In the 1950’s he attended Carnegie Mellon University (then known as Carnegie Tech) where he ran the student film company. After several years in the US Air Force after graduation, he began his career in film conservation, restoration and distribution by founding Film Arts Enterprises in 1961.

Pence opened his first theater in 1965 and quickly acquired over a dozen art and commercial theaters through The Flick, Rocky Mountain Cinemas and The Picture Show Corporation, which he owned until the 1980’s. Pence focused on distributing specialized, independent and foreign films in non-metropolitan college towns. Notable theaters he ran included the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen, the Egyptian in Park City, the Princess in Crested Butte, the Chief in Steamboat Springs, and the Sheridan Opera House in Telluride.

From 1965 to 1978 Pence worked as vice president of the film distribution company Janus Films. During his time at distribution, he focused on building the company’s library of classic films, which would eventually serve as the initial basis for home video curator, the Criterion Collection. He also helped set up “Janus Film Festivals,” screenings of the company’s library of titles that became popular on college campuses.

In 1983, Pence joined Dartmouth College’s Hopkins Center of the Arts as Director of the Film Program. There he directed the Dartmouth Film Society and developed a program whereby Dartmouth students helped curate Telluride’s short film program and attended the festival’s student symposium.

Pence is survived by his wife Stella, daughters Zazie and Lara, and four grandchildren. Pence was included in Turner Classic Movies’ year-end In Memoriam tribute. You can check it out below.

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https://www.indiewire.com/2022/12/bill-pence-telluride-founder-dead-1234795101/ Original Telluride founder Bill Pence dead at 82

Lindsay Lowe

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