NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The documentary film "Dreamcatcher" takes former sex worker Brenda Myers-Powell back to streets of Chicago where her last client nearly killed her.
Myers-Powell had walked the city's streets for many years until a client beat her so furiously that she tried to escape from his car and, as her clothes got stuck in the door, he dragged her for six blocks, scraping the skin off of her face.
Since then, she has dedicated nearly two decades to getting women and girls like her off the street.
Her past filled with abuse, she was shot five times and stabbed 13 times during her years as a sex worker, Myers-Powell told an audience at the Athena Film Festival in New York, after a screening of the film by British director Kim Longinotto.
"I come from everything these women come from...It's like I'm helping myself all over again," she said.
The stories of the women and girls in "Dreamcatcher" shine a light not only on prostitution and human trafficking in the United States but also on a justice system that focuses more on punishment than rehabilitation.
Some of the women Myers-Powell tries to help are girls in their early teens who have been abused throughout their short lives, often by family members, and have ended up in the hands of a pimp and hooked on drugs.
"You're dressed up, you make it to whatever you need to make it to, but they don't know how you feel on the inside," Myers-Powell said in the film.
The women come mostly from Chicago's African-American communities but Myers-Powell crosses race and gender barriers through the work of her Dreamcatcher Foundation that supports the city's sex workers.
The documentary premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival where it won the Directing Award for World Cinema Documentary.
"I hope you feel as close to them as I did when (I made) the film," Longinotto said via Skype from Britain. "They are truly remarkable."
One of the most vivid characters in the film is Marie, an older sex worker who had been on the streets since she was eight years old. She finally decides to seek help when she becomes pregnant with her second child.
"I was in and out of jail...my mother had mental (issues)," Marie tells Myers-Powell in the film.
Another character, Homer, is Myers-Powell's former pimp who now works for her to help dispel the myths of a lifestyle that still appeals to some young men with its easy money and power over women.
"We want to make dreams happen for people who are having nightmares," Myers-Powell said in New York.
The Athena Film Festival takes place annually at Barnard College of Columbia University in New York City and celebrates women in leadership roles.
(Reporting by Maria Caspani, Editing by Ros Russell)