Hot Docs 2015: Dreamcatcher
Director Kim Longinotto’s film Dreamcatcher is a powerful portrait of an inspiring and unstoppable woman who aims to help women trapped in the vicious cycle of prostitution and working the streets get help and turn their lives around. It is with the force of a hurricane that we see the film’s primary subject, Brenda Myers-Powell, give everything she’s got to this cause, providing hope and redemption to those who desperately need it.
The streets of Chicago can be a dangerous place for the most vulnerable residents of the city. Teenagers stricken with poverty and a dysfunctional home life often turn to gang activity to find a sense of belonging, with others turning to prostitution to make ends meet and to survive. Young girls are preyed upon by older men looking to take advantage of their desperation and naivety. These girls are seduced by their charm and by the time they realize they are being abused, they are too deep into the lifestyle to get themselves out. That’s where Brenda and her Dreamcatcher Foundation come to the rescue.
The film opens with visceral scenes of the Dreamcatcher crew patrolling the streets at night to give an immediate view of what it is they do. They look for girls who are out working and offer them whatever they need, whether it is condoms, someone to talk to, or helping to rescue them and get them off the street immediately. The girls she talks to share stories of how dangerous their work is, recalling incidents of being stabbed and left for dead, often wishing for their life to be over. It is the people in these situations that fuel Brenda’s fire to continue doing what she is doing with charisma and compassion.
Brenda herself is a veteran of the streets, having worked them for 25 years before getting out. Her aim is to help anyone that needs it or wants it to do the same. On top of her regular day job of counselling women imprisoned for sex crimes and prostitution-related offences and raising a family, she is on call 24 hours a day with her Dreamcatcher Foundation, responding to calls for help anywhere in the city and at any time of day. She also runs an after-school program for at-risk girls to teach them about self confidence, self respect, the dangers of the streets, educating them about any health-related matters they have questions about, and provides them with hope that they can better than their circumstances dictate. She is truly a remarkable and inspiring woman.
This is a film that sheds a completely honest light on a problem many may not know exists. Brenda and the Dreamcatcher Foundation fights for the lives of these girls and women, often trying to help them before they even realize they need or before they’ve reached that place internally where they finally accept that they’ve had enough and ask for help. She is fighting to give them their lives back, which doesn’t always work, and to see this in action with remarkable clarity and insight is truly incredible. As dark as the subject matter of this film is, and through the tears of sadness and joy, it gives the viewer an unbelievable sense of hope that the war can be won.
This program should be used as a model for other cities that have similar problems. It is a solution that works and should be spread far and wide. Dreamcatchers is an exceptionally compelling and important piece of filmmaking.
There is a piece of advice that Brenda gives to one of the high school girls that she mentors that perfectly summarizes what she is trying to provide for them, that makes you realize just how much respect you have for what she does:
“If you know someone’s got your back, you’ll make it.”
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