Cover photo for Francisco Alfredo Menendez's Obituary
1962 Francisco 2024

Francisco Alfredo Menendez

January 4, 1962 — February 29, 2024

Las Vegas, Nevada

A Tribute to the Extraordinary Life of Francisco Menéndez
January 4, 1962 to February 29, 2024

“You’re gonna need a bigger boat,” says Chief Martin Brody when he first catches a glimpse of the shark in Jaws (1975). It’s one of the most iconic lines in cinema history, and it’s also what the Universe said to the World when Francisco Alfredo Mejia Menéndez was born on January 4, 1962 in San Salvador, El Salvador—perhaps partly because Jaws would later become his favorite film, the movie that opened his eyes to the incredible impact of cinema and inspired him to embrace filmmaking for the rest of his extraordinary life, which ended with tragic suddenness on February 29, 2024 when he experienced a heart attack.

The world was not big enough for the artistic energy, intellect, enthusiasm, love, and exuberance that Francisco brought to it. An accomplished artist and professor, he was a global citizen who traveled everywhere and connected with everyone—and not just in superficial ways. He cultivated meaningful relationships that produced transformational partnerships and projects—an exquisite web of inspiration and possibility that will survive long after his passing.

As a child, he traveled the world with his inimitable mother, Joy Mejia, whose name was synonymous with the jubilation she inspired in her son. She owned a gift shop and took him on international buying trips, starting at age five. Those early experiences introduced him to the beauty and expansiveness of human existence. He immigrated to the United States in 1980, where he attended the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, and periodically returned to his beloved native land to cover its civil war. He then pursued his filmmaking dreams at the California Institute of the Arts (Cal Arts), where he got his Master of Fine Arts in Film, studying directing with the renowned Alexander Mackendrick. Those influences, including and perhaps especially his identity as a “Cal Artian,” made him unique: someone who could see beyond the horizon to perceive something new and marvelous just out of reach, who understood that diverse experiences are at the very core of what makes us human.

Like the director of Jaws, Steven Spielberg, whom he admired deeply, Francisco wanted to make his first feature by the age of twenty-six, and he succeeded. Backstage (1989), a love story set amidst

the drama of a university stage production, was his thesis film at Cal Arts. He imagined that he would become a Hollywood director, but fate intervened with a job opportunity to teach film at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, in a small interdisciplinary program with a handful of students led by Dr. Hart Wegner. Francisco’s choice to take that position changed the course of his life—and the lives of thousands of students over the thirty-four years that he served in what became the UNLV Department of Film, first as a tenure-track professor, and eventually as Chair (1999-2016) and Founding Artistic Director (2016-2024). In 2016, he was awarded the Nevada Regents Award for Creative Activities, acknowledging his outstanding record of achievement as an artist.

Though Francisco was always a filmmaker, his opus, the magnificent tapestry that he wove for the rest of his professional life, became the students and colleagues and projects that he mentored and fostered: Feature films helmed by Francisco that were learning labs for generations of emerging artists, like Stealing Las Vegas (2012). Student-led feature films funded with grants secured by Francisco, like Shellfish (2021). Film festival travel every single year, for students to go to Sundance (Park City, Utah) and Cannes (France) and beyond. Cutting-edge filmmaking techniques and equipment to engage students in the future of cinema, including pioneering work in high-definition video, gaming, virtual production, and artificial intelligence.

Francisco embraced national and international outreach, service, and leadership in his field. In CILECT (Centre international de liaison des écoles de cinéma et de télévision, or the International Association of Film and Television Schools), a “United Nations of Cinema,” he served on the Regional Council for CNA (CILECT North America). In 2020, he received the prestigious CILECT Teaching Award, typically given to only one professor each year selected from thousands across the globe, in recognition of his career as an exceptional educator (or, literally, at least for that year, as the Best Film Teacher on the Planet). He served as president of the University Film and Video Association and the University Film and Video Foundation, long-standing national organizations both focused on film education, where he provided enlightened vision and leadership, especially in terms of nurturing diversity, equity, and inclusion.

His life was full in every respect. Early in his journey as a professor, he married Shelan Davis, and they had two amazing daughters, Ana Sophia and Alina Sarah. Though they later divorced, their love for their children was unassailable, and Francisco took great joy in sharing his enthusiasm for travel and creativity with Ana and Alina during frequent visits and trips together. More recently, he met the love of his life, Valeriya Zhivkova, when he was working on a project in Bulgaria. They shared many beautiful and romantic adventures seeing the world together and building a home as husband and wife in Henderson, Nevada—including the recent purchase of a state-of-the-art pinball machine released in anticipation of the fiftieth anniversary of Jaws, marking Francisco’s continued love for the film and what it represented to him.

Francisco was doing what he loved up until almost the last moments of his life: sharing the wonder of filmmaking with his students. And in the spirit of his rollicking, expansive, and exhilarating journey on this earth, his exit was unique—on Leap Day, a day designed to bring our calendars into alignment with the heavens. And that is where he will remain: a star blazing across the cinematic and celestial firmament, winking inspiration and radiating warmth, reminding us of the beauty of humanity, art, and cinema, of reaching beyond ourselves to cultivate empathy and connection. We love you, and we miss you, Francisco, and we will hold you in our hearts forever.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Francisco Alfredo Menendez, please visit our flower store.

Service Schedule

Past Services

Visitation

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

12:00 - 1:00 pm (Pacific time)

Davis Funeral Homes & Memorial Park

6200 S Eastern Ave, Las Vegas, NV 89119

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Funeral Service

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

1:00 - 2:30 pm (Pacific time)

Davis Funeral Homes & Memorial Park

6200 S Eastern Ave, Las Vegas, NV 89119

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Burial

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Starts at 3:00 pm (Pacific time)

Davis Funeral Homes & Memorial Park

6200 S Eastern Ave, Las Vegas, NV 89119

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