Film Review: Dreamcatcher
By Magdalena Medley
TOP PHOTO: Copyright: Rise Films/SHOWTIME
Dreamcatcher, a deeply moving 2015 documentary film by director Kim Longinotto, tells the story of Brenda Myers-Powell, a former prostitute who has dedicated her life to helping other women escape the cycle of abuse in the sex industry. In 2008, she co-founded the Dreamcatcher Foundation, a nonprofit organization working to end human trafficking in Chicago, prevent the sexual exploitation of at-risk youth, and provide current victims with support and mentoring services. The movie offers a harrowing look into both Brenda’s own remarkable story and the lives of the women and girls she helps.
As a child, Brenda experienced numerous challenges, including emotional and physical abuse, as well as the death of her mother at a young age. She turned to prostitution as a way to support herself financially and to escape her difficult home life. After working in the sex industry for 25 years—and having made many unsuccessful attempts to leave that life behind—she narrowly survived a violent attack by one of her customers. This harrowing experience was a turning point for Brenda, leading her to devote the rest of her life to helping at-risk women and girls.
Brenda lives in Chicago, which is considered a national hub for human trafficking, in part because of its busy international airport. According to the Federal Trafficking Victim Protection Act, human trafficking is defined as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.” Sex trafficking is one of form of human trafficking, and there is often significant overlap between prostitution, which may involve coercion or force, and sex trafficking.
While Longinotto makes Brenda the focus of the film, it is through her that the viewer witnesses the heartbreaking, as well as uplifting, stories of the women she helps. The acclaimed director explores how Brenda’s personal understanding of the experiences of other at-risk girls and sex workers allows her to gain their trust, and, in turn, help them to make positive changes in their lives. Most, who are survivors of sexual assault or violence, confide in Brenda because they identify with her as a fellow survivor. Brenda and her foundation work tirelessly to provide support to those wanting to leave their lives behind, and they listen to others who might not be ready to make that change just yet. As Brenda says to one of them, “When you get sick and tired of being sick and tired, call us, and we will help you.” She creates a safe space for them, without any blame or judgment.
Dreamcatcher also explores the ways in which traffickers and pimps attempt to control their victims. As Brenda explains, many encourage conflict and distrust among the women to prevent them from forming allegiances and thus gaining confidence and power. Meanwhile, Marie, who has been on the streets from a young age, shares with Brenda that her current partner “got her pregnant because he knew how much money she was making for her baby’s daddy.” Seven months pregnant with her second child, she is trying to leave “the life,” but worries about her financial situation and her children’s future.
Longinotto, who received the World Cinema Documentary Directing Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival for Dreamcatcher, does an extraordinary job of revealing courage and strength amid pain and hopelessness, and of showing how just one caring person can make a positive difference in the lives of so many others.
Watch Dreamcatcher‘s trailer below: