Dreamcatcher is told by filmmaker Kim Longinotto in a straight-ahead vérité style, unflinchingly and without sentimentality.
The documentary follows Brenda Myers-Powell, a former prostitute, as she works on the streets of Chicago offering women help, condoms, support or a word. Myers-Powell believes in the power of narrative, and she breaks the cycle of silence by providing a safe place for women to talk to other women who have worked the streets. Many of those women are in prison, where they continue to be punished by a system that has victimized and exploited them.
There are a few important messages in this film.The first is that the ability of narrative to heal shame is powerful.The second is that the system of prostitution and, more broadly, the system of patriarchal culture, keep women separate from, and hostile and suspicious towards one another. This keeps them from organizing. Thirdly, we need more people stepping out of their comfort zones to attend to people in need.
Myers-Powell gives hope both to the women and to the men caught in this web and offers them a way out by telling their stories. Thus, they often find freedom and step out of the cycle of shame.The women we see began working the streets as children. They were often victimized before they reached the streets, a place that offers them nothing but betrayal and heartbreak.
The story is told from the perspective of the prostitutes—those who are ready to stop, as well as those who aren’t—in prisons, juvenile detention centres and high schools and on the streets.We see women in prison trying to heal their pain and we hear from Homer, a reformed pimp, who describes how the cycle of poverty allows few employment options to many African-American men.
Myers-Powell tells her own story of a brutal childhood, one that was followed by a cycle of exploitation and self-loathing that followed her onto the streets.At one point, she was dragged down a street by a car. Today, Myers-Powell works with those who have been imprisoned because of prostitution-related crimes and runs an organization called Dreamcatchers. This woman seems to carry the pain and hope of these women she works to help.
Commodified and disposable, these impoverished women are cultivated and harvested. Trafficking, after all, feeds off of the cycles of abuse and poverty and the enslavement of marginalized populations. Dreamcatcher examines a system where infrastructures are created for predators and where the most vulnerable members of the population are exploited and broken.In this system, social services are weak, inviting the viewer to question what would happen if Myers-Powell didn’t exist.She doesn’t pressure the women she works with but delivers the message that change is possible.
The film demonstrates how the world in which prostitution occurs breaks and degrades everyone in it. Dreamcatcher commands us to end the objectification of women and to end the human trafficking of at-risk youth.
This film is a triumph as a social document and an example of what is possible when one person steps out of their world of relative privilege and comfort and takes action.
Dreamcatcher shows us all what kind of world it would be if each of us made such a contribution and woke ourselves up to the perpetuation of exploitation and anguish that lives and breathes on our own streets.
In Dreamcatcher, Brenda Myers-Powell carries the pain and hope of the women she helps.