By Emma Silverthorn @HouseOf_Gazelle
Kim Longinotto’s documentary Dreamcatcher has I suspect used up my full years supply of tears. Longinotto is an almost entirely silent presence behind the camera, which feels right for the stories she documents; giving, ex-prostitute and current Dreamcatcher Foundation advocate Brenda Myers-Powell, as well as the numerous women Brenda supports, the space to tell their own stories. The Dreamcatcher Foundation, as their site states fights to end human sex trafficking in Chicago. And the stories told by these women and men are all about varying degrees of pain. The amount of abuse detailed in the ninety minutes of this film is shocking but the delivery thankfully is non-hysterical and the suffering the audience witnesses is buoyed up by the films protagonist.
The camera follows Brenda as she drives the streets handing out condoms to sex-workers, counselling at-risk youth and staging interventions. Brenda’s own story of abuse, addiction and twenty-five years in the game is as heart breaking, as the many young people she now helps. The point of course is that she got out. No only as a survivor but as an absolute powerhouse of non-judgmental love and support. Longinotto’s choice in profiling Brenda to bring these bleak issues to light is spot on. Brenda’s is a fascinating subject to watch, not just because of her goodness, but also because of her fabulousness and it is her style and manner that keeps the viewer from descending totally into feelings of, potentially powerless, sorrow. She speaks in clear axioms that in a different context could be bumper sticker-ish or trite but in these contexts are exactly true. “You hungry for education” she says to one girl, “you had all the beauty beat out of you” to her sister-in law and most importantly to all the survivors (she rarely uses the word victim) of rape: “it’s not your fault”.
One of the most interesting dynamics here is between Brenda and her ex-pimps best friend. An ex-pimp himself Homer has not as he says, “taken drugs or pimped a woman for thirteen years”. Homer still sort of rolls and looks pimp-like but satisfyingly he now works for Brenda and her victory dance at this turning of tables is wonderful! Homer now educates young women at risk, rather than putting them there. All credit to the foundation and to Longinotto for not making this a purely women’s rights issue either as the footage of Homer reveals his own tale of childhood abuse aged nine.
The stats regarding cycles of abuse when it comes to sexual exploitation are well known but it’s a different thing to see and hear it directly and for almost all the figures captured in this film this cycle is prevalent. Dreamcatcher doesn’t stray into polemic territory but it does calmly show the sheer amount of women and men that end up working in prostitution as a result of childhood molestation. This film should do a lot of good not only directly, in support of the foundation, but in relation to mental shifts. i.e. the prostitute herself is not shameful the circumstances which put her there are.
Not an easy watch but SO worth it in terms of perspective, insight and, at the risk of sounding like a hippie, in terms of sheer heart opening.
Dreamcatcher is on general release from March 6th.