At a time when issues of gender equality in film are coming to the fore, it is hugely refreshing to see a film like Dreamcatcher acting as a beacon for women and female issues. This documentary is a world away from the gendered Hollywood system which Patricia Arquette passionately spoke out against in her Oscar speech.
The film follows Brenda, a former prostitute and drug-addict who, in the wake of her escape from this world, created the “Dreamcatcher” organisation to help women who are trapped within the same situation. Acting as a pillar of hope and strength for hundreds of women, Brenda shows the influence that a single person can have within a community. The 25 years she spent within prostitution allow her to bring insight and depth to those she meets and for those who view the film.
Set in Chicago, the film paints a grim and brutal depiction of life for prostitutes and drug-addicts in the city’s most dangerous streets. Brenda acts like a modern day saint as she tries to save those who have fallen into this industry and as she tries to protect those who are at risk of falling into it.
Dreamcatcher seems to portray an alternate American dream. This is not a dream depicted by Forbes magazine or within the popular press, but instead one that focusses on actions of true compassion and feeling. Here success is not measured through a bank balance or through material possessions, but through moral redemption and individual triumphs. The film may delve into issues of neglect, violence, and exploitation, but it is more interested in the personal. Brenda may be a servant of the streets, but it is the human heart and soul that she is trying to save.
The documentary is directed by British filmmaker Kim Longinotto. She is known for making films about extraordinary women which often centre around female victims of oppression and discrimination. Her previous documentaries include Sisters in Law (2005), Rough Aunties (2008), and perhaps most notably 2010’s Pink Saris, which went on to win a BAFTA. Longinotto brings an unobtrusive presence to the picture, which only makes it feel all the more real and relatable and she has the ability to make the distant and treacherous world of drug-addiction and prostitution feel significant and worthy of our empathy.
Like many documentaries, Dreamcatcher is restricted by real life events. As inspiring as the story is, it lacks narrative drive and focus. Even with its short running time of only 97 minutes, the film seems to repeat itself and run out of interesting observations. Ultimately, the documentary is merely a collection of moments, which are poignant and moving but collectively unremarkable.
Films are often criticised for being sentimental and saccharine. The actions of Brenda may at times feel sentimental but the sincerity of the film means that these moments are truly heartfelt. Her proclamations of self-love and respect would appear to be clichéd and maudlin if they occurred within an ordinary narrative film but within Longinotto’s stripped back documentary there is a real feeling of truth.
Dreamcatcher acts as an affirmation that feelings of empathy and kindness are worth holding onto. Brenda is a wonderful example that true altruism exists within the modern world. As a documentary, it may not be initiative or ground-breaking in the way that many recent documentaries have, but it has a depth of feeling and compassion that transcends these restrictions.
Dreamcatcher is released in UK cinemas on March 6th
For screening venues and other information check out the film's official website.
Wyndham Hacket Pain