Sundance this year seems to have a theme of abuse and action against abuse of women, men, children, and minds.
There was a long list to choose from, including “I Smile Back” (self-abuse), “James White” (self-abuse),“The Stanford Prison Experiment” (mind abuse), “The
Mask You Live In” (mind abuse of males in America), “Prophets of Prey” (mind abuse),
“Experimenter” (more mind abuse), “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief” (mind abuse), “Stockholm, Pennsylvania” (abduction), “3 ½ Minutes”
(victim of violence), “Cartel Land” (drug related violence), “Hot Girls Wanted” (young women in porn), “The Wolfpack” (youths locked up), “Chorus” (child murder), “Glassland”
(broken family), “Take Me to the River” (sexual abuse?), “Reversal” (sexual abuse), “Partisan” (kid locked up), “Strangerland” (kids disappear), “Lila
& Eve” (son’s murder), “True Story” (identity theft), “Zipper” (sexual addiction), “The Hunting Ground” (sexual abuse on college campuses). Even the
opening night film, the eye-opening “What Happened, Miss Simone?” by Liz Garbus dealt with abuse. That is 24 titles!
“Dreamcatcher” (World Documentary, U.K.), which won the World Cinema Documentary Award for Directing, is
the one that caught me. Brenda Myers-Powell, a former teenage prostitute with a drug habit has recovered after 25 years on the streets, and is an
“Dreamcatcher” takes us into a hidden world which we see through Brenda’s eyes. Brenda defied the odds to become a powerful advocate for change in her
With unprecedented access, multi award winning director, Kim Longinotto paints a
vivid portrait of a community struggling to come to terms with some of its most painful truths and of the extraordinary woman who uses her past to inspire
others to survive. With warmth and humor, Brenda gives hope to those who have none.
Brenda is a beautiful woman who went into recovery after her face was destroyed by a “john” who physically dragged her across rough terrain. We meet her in
the film as she cruises the streets and goes to talk with prostitutes telling them that if they ever need a place to come, to hide, to recover,
Dreamcatcher is there to help. She listens to their stories when they do come to her; she goes into prisons to talk to prostitutes, she goes into schools
to talk to girls at risk.
At the high school, she opened the group with the discussion point of how to get away from a guy who is pressuring the girls in ways they do not want to
go. One girl said she had been abused since she was a child. The rest of the class chimed in with similar stories of sexual abuse taking Brenda by
surprise. “I didn’t know this would be the what we talked about today, but since we are talking, I too was abused as a young girl.” There was nothing she
heard that shocked her because she had gone through it all herself.
Her calm ability to hear the worst of stories made me ask the film’s publicist, Susan Norget, for an interview with her. My main question was how did she
manage to keep all judgment from entering the conversations, how had she learned to listen so well.
When I met her personally, she was even more beautiful than in the movie. We sat and talked and she explained first that the class in the film was in its
second semester and she had spent the first semester just trying to get the girls to settle down and behave. She also said that she had spent 25 years on
the streets, and “you have to learn to judge people – are they violent, serial killers? You get a sixth sense about people in order to survive.”
But when she was nearly destroyed, she went to someone who had spoken to her as she now speaks to others.
Who was this I wanted to know.
“She was a hippy outreach worker who spoke to me when I was in jail”, she said.
“In prison?” I asked.
“No, jail, not prison”. Jail is where they hold you until they indict you for a crime. When guilty, you go to prison. I was never in prison.”
This hippy outreach woman was a British woman named Edwina Gateley. She was a journalist who, with a
therapist, opened her home for women prostitutes. I spent 18 months there, nineteen years ago and I am still with her. They healed my face with natural
herbs; I learned to meditate and to love myself.
B: “I am a very spiritual person. My favorite poem is ‘Footprints.’ My own god is very personal.
Me: You don’t offer Christianity, you never mention religion. How does recovery work?
B: The girls on the street are not ready for that. You can’t say ‘Jesus Loves You’ and then abandon them. They need to learn to love themselves. Edwina
told me my body was special, not meant for what I was using it for. I did a lot of meditation, thinking and talking.
Me: In the movie your daughter talks about her life and how it was for her with you on the streets. Today she is a psychiatrist. How did she get through
her childhood to grow up so well?
B: Aunt Suzy took care of my daughters. She is my mother’s sister.
Also Aunt Josey raised my daughters to become women, Christian women. One is a doctor and the other in criminal justice.
I forgot to ask her about her husband, if they were always married or newly married. She has adopted the child of her sister-in-law.
We see in the film that her family and extended family include her high achieving daughter and her drug addicted sister-in-law, tied to a man who seems to
harbor a violent temper. We see that she holds a good job – “well good as I see it”, she says, “And having that I feel I must help others achieve it as
She works as a volunteer for Dreamcatcher which is really her life. She has moments of anxiety and worry, all is not perfect, but she clearly sees her
mission and is clear about how she speaks of it. This film made me feel like a better person, and if I lived in Chicago, I would be motivated to volunteer
Brenda would not like to be lionized, but to meet and speak with her is to be inspired.
The ISA handling “Dreamcatcher” is Dogwoof