Cherry, Evelyn Spice (1906-90)

Evelyn Spice Cherry was a pioneering documentary filmmaker. A producer, director, scriptwriter, and editor, she was a driving force at the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) in the 1940s. With her husband, cameraman Lawrence Cherry, she formed her own company, Cherry Film Productions Ltd., in Regina in 1961. She made over 100 films between 1929 and 1979. Born in Yorkton, Cherry taught public school before earning a journalism degree from the University of Missouri in 1929. She worked briefly at the Regina Leader-Post, and in 1931 travelled to London, England. Working for John Grierson at the GPO Film Unit—the only woman and the only Canadian—she produced Weather Forecast (1934), an acclaimed poetic treatment of forecasting methods, and Prairie Winter (1935). In London, she married Yorkton expatriate, Lawrence Cherry, and they worked there until war was declared in 1939. Returning to Canada as independents, they joined the NFB at Grierson’s invitation in 1941. As Head of the Agricultural Unit, Spice Cherry produced films for the war effort and the co-operative farm movement, and brought prairie life to national and international consciousness. The Cherrys were also key figures in the development of the Yorkton Film Council in 1947 and the distribution circuits that brought films to rural areas. As a filmmaker, Spice Cherry’s achievement was to make the art of social documentary a populist vehicle for the voice of Saskatchewan people and their communitarian energies. By Their Own Strength (1940) is remarkable in the way it depicts class conflict in a bold, agit-prop montage style, foregrounding the contributions of working people to larger social and economic systems. Other films include New Horizons (1940), Windbreaks for the Prairies (1942), That They May Live (1942), Soil for Tomorrow (1945), Land for Men (1945), and Water for the Prairies (1950).

In 1950 Evelyn Spice Cherry left the NFB, disillusioned by accusations of Communist infiltration. She taught English and attempted to set up a day-care centre for working mothers in the 1950s. In 1958 the Cherrys returned to Regina to establish a film section for the Saskatchewan government, and in the early 1960s they produced films on environmental topics and Aboriginal issues. Lawrence died in 1966, but with her youngest son, Bill, Spice Cherry continued as an independent filmmaker and activist. In the 1970s and 1980s, she continued her involvement with the Yorkton festival, and played a key role in the Regina movement for nuclear disarmament. Evelyn Spice Cherry retired to Cortes Island, British Columbia in 1985 and died in Victoria.

Christine Ramsay

Further Reading

Morris, P. 1984. The Film Companion. Toronto: Irwin; Ramsay, C. 2003. Canadian Film Encyclopedia Online; Wise, W. 2001. Take One’s Essential Guide to Canadian Film. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.