Kim Longinotto’s newest work, Dreamcatcher, is a raw, gripping and emotionally challenging insight into the lives of sex workers on the streets of Chicago through the eyes of survivor and activist, Brenda Myers-Powell.
Premiering at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, Dreamcatcher hit Australian screens for the first time at this year’s Adelaide Film Festival. The documentary follows the work of Myers-Powell, an ex-sex worker who founded the Dreamcatcher Foundation in 2008 alongside Stephanie Daniels-Wilson. The Dreamcatcher Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation established by survivors of human trafficking for sex workers and at-risk girls in Chicago, where the context of sex work is extremely different to that of Australia. While the majority of sex work in Australia takes place in private settings, it is primarily street-based in the lower socio-economic areas of Chicago and rife with instances of violence, pimping, and drug use. “I would watch women with big glamorous hair and sparkly dresses standing on the street outside our house. I had no idea what they were up to; I just thought they were shiny. As a little girl, all I ever wanted was to be shiny.” The earnest voice of Myers-Powell rings out in the opening scenes of the documentary over gritty footage of Chicago’s streets at dusk, sirens wailing in the background as she and Daniels-Wilson drive through the streets offering women condoms. What ensues is a heart-wrenching and compelling hour-and-a-half exploration of the lives of a variety of women, some as young as fifteen, juxtaposed with Myers-Powell’s own history to illuminate what drove her to start The Dreamcatcher Foundation. While some of the accounts shared in the documentary are so grim that they are difficult to listen to, Myers-Powell’s honesty, strength and empathy stays with you long after the final credits roll and serve as a poignant reminder of the power of the individual. Longinotto’s unobtrusive and organic style perfectly captures the pure moments of intimacy and understanding between Myers-Powell and the women she engages with. The documentary masterfully examines the intersections between sexism, racism, and classism, and how these injustices perpetuate the cycle of abuse that leads to violence against women. “If you know somebody got your back, you’ll make it,” Myers-Powell tells a young girl from a dysfunctional home who reaches out to her for support. The entire premise of the documentary is founded upon this statement, and ultimately reinforces that listening, educating and validating are key steps in the process of healing and recovery from trauma.