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Evelyn Cherry

Director, Producer, Screenwriter
(b. January 1, 1906 Yorkton, Saskatchewan - d. January 1, 1990 Victoria, British Columbia)

Evelyn Spice Cherry was a pioneering documentarist and social activist. In the 1940s, her films chronicled farm life and the rise of the cooperative movement on the Canadian prairies. As a producer, director, scriptwriter and editor, she was a driving force at the National Film Board. And in 1961, with her husband, the cinematographer Lawrence Cherry, she formed her own company in Regina: Cherry Film Productions Ltd. In the 50 years between 1929 and 1979, Evelyn Spice Cherry made over 100 films.

Cherry was born on a farm in Yorkton, Saskatchewan; when she left home in 1929, it was to study journalism at the University of Missouri. After graduating with a B.A., she worked briefly at the Leader Post in Regina before travelling to London, England, in 1931, where she made a lasting impression on John Grierson with her enthusiasm for the burgeoning documentary form. Working under Grierson’s direction at the GPO Film Unit — where she was the only woman and only Canadian among luminaries such as Basil Wright, Arthur Elton and Stuart Legg — Cherry produced Weather Forecast (1934), an internationally acclaimed, poetic treatment of weather forecasting methods and the effects of weather on ships, aircraft pilots and farmers.

In London, she married Lawrence Cherry, another Yorkton expatriate who was there to learn the art of filmmaking. In 1935, she returned to Saskatchewan briefly to make Prairie Winter (1935) with Jenny Brown Gilbertson, then continued working in London until WWII started in 1939.

Back in Canada, the Cherrys worked independently until they joined the NFB in 1941 at Grierson’s invitation. Evelyn Cherry’s talent was such that Grierson is said to have considered her his right hand. She became the first head of the Board’s agricultural unit, producing films for the war effort, documenting the rise of the Saskatchewan cooperative farm movement, generating dialogue between rural and urban interests, and bringing the Canadian prairies to national and international consciousness.

Her career in the 1940s continuously caused her to move between Board headquarters in Ottawa and Regina and its farming communities. The Cherrys were key figures in the development of the travelling, 16mm film circuits, organized to bring a regular flow of films to these regions. Cherry’s achievement was to take the pioneering art form of social documentary and make it a populist vehicle for the voice of Saskatchewan people and their collectivist energies. By Their Own Strength (1940) remarkably depicts themes of class conflict in a bold, agitprop montage style, placing the contributions of working people at the forefront of the broader social and economic systems of Canada.

In 1950, Evelyn Spice Cherry left the Board, disillusioned by the accusations of communist infiltration. She taught English at an Ottawa business school and attempted to set up a daycare centre for working mothers, while Lawrence continued producing and directing at the Board until 1957. In 1958, the Cherrys returned to Regina to set up a film department for the Saskatchewan government. Three years later, as Cherry Film Productions Ltd., they began to produce films on environmental topics and became involved in First Nations issues.

Lawrence Cherry died in 1966, but joined by her youngest son, Bill Cherry, Evelyn continued to work as an independent filmmaker and activist. She attended “Four Days in May,” a celebration of the legacy of the Board, which took place in Ottawa from May 6 to 9, 1975. She participated in the activities of the Yorkton Short Film and Video Festival, and played a key role in the Regina movement for nuclear disarmament in the early 1980s. In 1985, Evelyn Spice Cherry retired to Cortes Island, British Columbia. She died in Victoria in 1992.

Film and video work includes

Weather Forecast, 1934 (director)
Prairie Winter, 1935 (director)
Job in a Million, 1937 (director)
By Their Own Strength, 1940 (director)
That They May Live, 1942 (director)
Windbreaks for the Prairies, 1942 (director; writer; editor; producer)
New Horizons, 1943 (director)
Vitamin Wise, 1943 (producer)
Children First, 1944 (producer)
School Lunches, 1944 (producer)
Stook Sweeps and Buck Rakes, 1944 (producer)
Winter Care of Dairy Cattle, 1944 (producer)
Certified for Seed, 1945 (co-director and co-cinematographer with Lawrence Cherry; writer)
Early start, 1945 (producer)
Five Steps to Better Farm Living, 1945 (producer)
Just Weeds, 1945 (producer)
Land for Men, 1945 (director; producer)
Soil for Tomorrow, 1945 (director)
Supper's Ready, 1945 (producer)
Want a Lift?, 1945 (producer)
Farm Electrification, 1946 (director; producer)
Rural Health, 1946 (writer; producer)
Vegetable Insects, 1946 (director)
Workers on the Land, 1946 (producer)
Farm Homes Beautiful, 1947 (producer)
The Feeling of Rejection, 1947 (co-producer with Robert Anderson)
Prairie Homes, 1947 (producer)
Wings of Mercy, 1947 (director; producer)
Dutch Elm Disease, 1948 (producer)
Get Rid of Rats, 1948 (producer)
Hog Family Supreme, 1948 (writer; producer)
Kitchen Come True, 1948 (producer)
Mastitis (Disease of the Udder), 1948 (producer)
Mercy Flight, 1948 (director; producer)
Out Beyond Town, 1948 (director)
Science Helps the Farmer, 1948 (producer)
When All the People Play, 1948 (director; producer)
55,000 for Breakfast, 1949 (co-director with Lawrence Cherry, writer)
Land in Trust, 1949 (director; producer)
The Story of Standards, 1950 (co-producer with Lawrence Cherry)
Trees are a Crop, 1950 (producer)
Water for the Prairies, 1951 (co-writer with Jack Ammon; producer)
The Business of Farming, 1961 (writer)
Mastering a River, 1970 (producer; narrator)
Geology - Lake Agassiz Region, 1972 (producer)
E. Lindner, 1974 (producer)
Dryland Salinity, 1977 (producer)

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