Storyteller was a budding star
Award-winning filmmaker’s sudden death took away an inspiring, generous mentor
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Erin Hembrador was an award-winning Filipina-Canadian filmmaker who had a knack for telling “poignant and sincere” stories of the diaspora.
The budding talent was nominated for Best Manitoba Director Award for her debut film, Piece of Mind, at the Gimli Film Festival in 2018. At the FascinAsian Film Festival in 2022, she had won Best Prairie Short for her film Mansanas, and Best Canadian Short for Container, which she co-directed with fellow filmmaker Quan Luong.
Hembrador had just wrapped up shooting another film when she died, unexpectedly.
“Erin loved to make films. She would have her full-time job, but would take the time in the evening to write scripts and apply for grants. She’d have to figure out locations, casting and things like that. She would be stressed out, but she did a good job balancing things,” her husband Elfren-Ray Raquin shares.
Hembrador and Raquin had known each other for 18 years. High school friends who met when they were in Grade 10, their relationship remained platonic until 2018 when things took a romantic turn. Three years later, in May 2021, Raquin proposed.
In June 2022 Hembrador began complaining about chest pains. They were so severe she was taken to St. Boniface Hospital where doctors ran tests, but the results showed no cause for concern. Everyone assumed it was down to anxiety, and wedding planning.
On Oct. 1, 2022, Hembrador and Raquin tied the knot at Pineridge Hollow. In the early hours of the next morning, the day after she got married, she suffered a cardiac arrest in her living room.
“She asked me to help her out of her wedding dress and then her body just locked up. She looked like she was having a seizure and then she collapsed on our couch and slipped down to the ground. I called the ambulance and performed CPR until they came,” Raquin says.
Hembrador was rushed to St. Boniface Hospital where she remained until her death on Oct. 28.
She was 33 years old and had been married for only 27 days.
“She was my best friend before we became a couple and then she became my best friend, my love and my wife,” Raquin says.
The only child of Severino and Ester Hembrador, Erin was born at Misericordia Hospital in Winnipeg on March 7, 1989. She was a student at O.V. Jewitt Elementary School before going on to Maples Collegiate where her favourite subjects were English language arts, biology and history.
She was a keen pianist and attended piano lessons at Tauber Music School. In her free time Hembrador, whom her mother describes as quiet, kind and loving, liked to hike, read and watch movies.
Hembrador spent two years at the University of Manitoba and then went on to graduate from the University of Winnipeg with a bachelor of arts before heading to Vancouver Film School where she studied sound design for visual media.
When she came back to Winnipeg Hembrador worked on independent film projects, focusing on post-production sound before moving on to writing and directing her own films.
“Erin was a talented filmmaker on the rise, who was an award-winning creative and an inspiring, generous mentor who told poignant and sincere stories of the diaspora. A gifted artist who had many more stories to tell, we are grateful for her unique voice and the impact she had on the Winnipeg film community” say the Winnipeg Film Group.
Hembrador’s first film Piece of Mind, about an older man who makes a connection with a strange young woman because they both speak Tagalog, earned her a nomination for the Best Manitoba Director Award at the 2018 Gimli Film Festival, and won the Audience Choice, Best Actor and Best Actress awards. It was also broadcast on CBC’s Canadian Reflections.
“Erin’s films were thoughtful explorations of the Asian diasporic experience, though did not always revolve around their identities, but rather, deeper emotional connections that are universal. She was indeed a rising talent with a voice that was starting to separate her from the pack,” says Alan Wong, executive director of the Gimli International Film Festival and president of FascinAsian Film Festival.
Her film Mansanas (May 2021), about a Filipina woman experiencing homesickness, was a finalist at the New York International Film Festival.
“At the FascinAsian Film Festival in 2022, she had won Best Prairie Short for her inspiring film Mansanas, and Best Canadian Short for Container, a moving story about illegal smuggling of Vietnamese nationals, that she co-directed with Quan Luong. She was a humble and gracious soul and will be missed dearly, not only for her beautiful and grounding presence, but for the lost potential of her craft,” Wong continues.
Hembrador and Luong had just finished shooting a film called Stand In, which will be released at this year’s Gimli Film Festival, when she died.
“Erin was one of the most passionate filmmakers I’ve ever worked with. Her passing left a big hole in my heart that I still struggle to fill. She was not only a fantastic collaborator but also a very close friend. Her dedication and talent were undeniable. Her kindness and empathy are evident to anyone who has ever talked to Erin. These qualities made Erin a great filmmaker. She was interested in intimate stories and was really good at telling them in many formats, from short films to documentaries. Without Erin, we’re missing an up-and-coming filmmaker who dedicated their life to telling unique stories that wouldn’t have been told otherwise,” Luong says.
Hembrador was close to her family, both immediate and extended. She would talk to her mother whenever she had a problem, and considered her parents and her Ate (big sister figure) Annie her mentors. Her family was proud of her.
“She chose the career she wants and no matter what she wanted we are here to support her. We are so happy that she followed her dreams that one day she can write a story and make a movie. She just started to be known in the film industry and we are so proud of her. In her career she met so many people that she worked with and became friends (with),” her mother says.
The family had retained their connection to the Philippines and the younger Hembrador had visited five times.
“Lately she went back by herself,” her mother shares “and she liked it very much.”
Although an only child, Hembrador was surrounded by her large extended family of cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. A joyful person who laughed easily, her husband recalls her distinct laugh ringing out during family occasions.
“She would laugh so hard it would sound like she had asthma, like she would be struggling for air. Her laugh was loud and noticeable and distinct. There are a lot of videos taken during happy times and you can always hear her laugh in the background.
“Erin was such a light in people’s lives. Everyone she came into contact with, she has made a positive impact on. She brought out the best in people. She was so passionate about filmmaking and storytelling through her work. She put her heart into her work, and you can really get a sense of who she was through her films,” he says.
AV Kitching is an arts and life writer at the Free Press.