Bill Pence, a former VP at Janus Films who co-founded the integral Telluride Film Festival in 1974, has died. He was 82. The Telluride Daily Planet said Pence died December 6 after a long illness.
A native of Minneapolis, Pence launched the Telluride fest with his wife, Stella, along with friend and film historian James Card, who became the event’s co-director, and Tom Luddy, who still co-directs the fest today. The inaugural festival at the Colorado burg’s Sheridan Opera House — and a local bar — featured tributes to Francis Ford Coppola, Gloria Swanson and Leni Riefenstahl and was a surprise sellout. Pence guided the fest’s growth, adding three more venues by 1986.
In 1991, he made a key deal with the town’s lone school to put a 500-seat theater in its gym every winter, using a small upstairs music room as a projection facility. During the next 15 years, the Pences would add the Galaxy, the Palm and the Chuck Jones Theatre to the event’s venues.
The Pences retired from the fest in 2003. They later were recruited to help program and run the TCM Classic Film Festival, and Bill Pence continued to work on preserving and archiving overlooked films.
During his career, Pence also rose to VP at New York-based Janus Films, he arranged to move its theatrical unit to Denver, and later headed the student film program at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH.
Along with his wife of 52 years, Pence is survived by their daughters, Zazie and Lara, and four grandchildren.