In Memoriam – John Refoua, ACE

August 10, 2023

John Refoua, ACE
– best known for his work on James Cameron’s Avatar and its sequels – died May 14 from complications related to bile duct cancer. He was 62. Refoua, along with Cameron and Stephen E. Rivkin, ACE, earned 2009 Oscar, BAFTA and Eddie nominations for editing the groundbreaking Avatar, which with more than $2.9 billion at the global box office is the highest grossing movie of all time. His latest release was Avatar:

The Way of Water, for which he shared credit with Cameron, Rivkin and the late David Brenner, ACE. The Way of Water opened in December and became the third-highest grossing movie of all time with more than $2.3 billion.

He was working on the third movie in the franchise at the time of his passing. “John’s passing is heartbreaking. He left us way too soon,” says Rivkin. “His warmth, humor and kindness were an inspiration to the entire Avatar crew and all who ever had the pleasure of working with him. He will always be our beloved friend, colleague and gifted editor, whose talent and Refoua additionally edited several movies for Antoine Fuqua, such as Southpaw, The Magnificent Seven (2016),The Equalizer and Olympus Has Fallen.

Additional credits include Cameron’s Titanic documentary Ghosts of the Abyss, Michael Bay’s Transformers: The Last Knight and DeaDevlin’s Geostorm. His work in television included CSI: Miami, Reno 911! and Cameron-created Dark Angel. Refoua mentored many young people and was proud of their successes.

His wife, Serena Bell Refoua, described her husband as the embodiment of the American dream. He was born in Tehran, Iran and was the oldest of 4 children; his siblings are Jackie, Shawn and Amir. In 1976 at age 16, he arrived in the U.S. and began his studies at Oberlin College. He graduated in 1980 with a degree in economics.

After college he made his way to California and worked at a variety of jobs. He even joined a small band playing bass guitar and traveled through New Mexico. He kept journals full of goals and affirmations, in fact even in his late ’20s he set a goal to win an Oscar and an Emmy.

In 1983 he came to Los Angeles and worked as a salesman at Leo’s Stereo where he made friends with people from JPL and Caltech. Someone suggested he would be a good film editor so he took a course at UCLA Extension with Bernie Balmuth and started to work in the TV industry. In his mid ’40s he was able to achieve his goal of working on films.

He met his wife, Serena, in 1989 at a jazz club in Glendale. They went on a date the very next day and soon became inseparable – married for 32 years. They loved traveling and seeking out jazz clubs in New Orleans, Paris, London, Rome and Amsterdam. They especially loved hosting dinner parties for all occasions.

Writes Serena: “My brilliant, sweet, creative husband John Djahanshah Refoua passed away on May 14 surrounded by family and friends who loved him. He was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma, a rare bile duct cancer, 15 months ago.

Despite the pain and complexities of this aggressive disease, he faced it with courage and grit. He continued to work ,and edit on James Cameron’s Avatar 3 right up to his final weeks. His life’s trajectory was quite unique and anything he touched, he made better. He loved music, movies, politics, traveling, vintage cars, science fiction and his  4-year-old granddaughter Avery Sophia. We will miss his generosity and wisdom.”

He is survived by his wife; a son, Aaron James Refoua; and granddaughter. Donations in his name may be made to Cholangiocarcinoma.or creativity will live on forever in our movies.




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