Sherr Klein obtained a bachelor of arts from Barnard College in 1961 and received a masters in communication from Stanford University in 1966, specializing in film, broadcasting and drama. After working in film in the US for a year, Sherr Klein emigrated to Canada and in Montréal joined the NFB's Challenge for Change program, which through the production of films shed light on social problems. She worked as a commentary writer, editor, director and producer of several short documentaries, and on a five-part documentary series entitled Organizing for Power: The Alinsky Approach, focusing on American social activist Saul Alinsky's method for organizing community groups into action.
In 1970 Sherr Klein returned to the US while her physician husband completed his post-doctorate work. Borrowing on the Challenge for Change model, video-access pioneer Bonnie Sherr Klein established Portable Channel, a community-access media and documentary centre, and she trained non-professionals how to make their own shows for Homemade TV, a local PBS series in Rochester, New York.
Not a Love Story
Returning to Montréal in 1975, Sherr Klein joined Studio D, the Women's Unit of the NFB, producing and directing several documentaries including Patricia's Moving Picture (1978), a personal account of a woman's passage through a mid-life crisis. But her most popular and controversial film is Not A Love Story: A Film About Pornography, which best defines her style of documentary directing. Sherr Klein and stripper Lindalee Tracy investigate, on camera, the pornography world the film opposes. While audiences found the results enlightening, some critics noted the film's one-sided view. Ironically the film was banned in Ontario for its pornographic content - the very pornography the filmmakers argued so passionately against delivering to consumers. However, it remains one of Studio D's most commonly screened films. Additional documentaries Bonnie Sherr Klein helped create at Studio D include Dark Lullabies (1985) and the Speaking Our Peace series (1985).
In 1987 her life and her work were irrevocably changed by two strokes, after which she was afflicted by "locked-in syndrome," a rare neurological disorder that leaves its victims fully aware but unable to speak or move. After the three years of rehabilitation it took to regain her speech and learn to get around on a motorized scooter she named Gladys, Sherr Klein emerged a passionate activist for the rights of disabled people, and published Slow Dance: A Story of Strokes, Love and Disability (1997, written with Persimmon Blackbridge).
Bonnie Sherr Klein relocated to Vancouver and became one of the organizers of KickstArt!, a Vancouver festival celebrating disability arts and culture. Her first film since recovering from the strokes was Shameless: The Art of Disability (2006). The NFB-supported documentary looks at the lives of five disabled artists and was intended to break the stereotypes of disability and recast disabled people as vibrant and fully productive.
Her awards include the YWCA Woman of Distinction Award (1996), the VanCity Book Prize (1997) and the Governor General's Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case (2004), honouring outstanding contributions toward the advancement of women's equality. She was granted an honorary doctor of laws degree by Ryerson University in June 2003.