Brenda Myers Powell has come a long way. Eighteen years ago, she was a prostitute. She'd been one for 25 years, but on this January day she is getting the star treatment. A documentary about her, her partner Stephanie Daniels and their Dreamcatcher Foundation is a feature selection.
"It’s so exciting," Brenda said between promotional photo shoots. "I am trying .. to make sure that I take ..every moment in."
She’s worked hard to get here. Brenda first told us about her life in prostitution in 2011, saying she started at 14. She says she was shot five times and stabbed more than 13 times. She was nearly killed and once she got out decided "in my recovery process that I was going back to help women like myself."
That led to The Dreamcatcher Foundation. She and her partner hit the streets of Chicago offering to help women and girls caught up in prostitution and trafficking. They’ll offer condoms to gain their attention, and tell their own stories to gain their trust.
That work, and Brenda’s magnetic personality, caught the attention of producer Lisa Stevens and award-winning director Kim Longinotto.
"I think people are going to think, 'Wow, she has been through all of that?' And, yet she is like she is. That is a miracle," Longinotto said.
Stevens found Brenda after working on a project about drugs in the U.S. that included Stephanie’s son and was captivated.
"There was a depth to her story and the way she tells it," Stevens noted. "It is not a performance. It is real."
Longinotto spent 10 weeks filming Brenda, Stephanie and the girls they try to save.
"It is going to expose how hard the work is," Brenda said. "Kim and I go into the deep, the ugly side of human trafficking. ... This is not Pretty Woman” (the 1990 movie starring Julia Roberts as a prostitute who falls in love with a john and lives happily ever after).
A particularly poignant story line of the film follows Marie Miller, a woman Brenda encountered on one of her night rides in 2013. The film shows her reaching out to Brenda to help her get out of "the life," as prostitution is often called, and getting her into treatment.
By August of 2014, Miller was working with Brenda on an outreach night ride. NBC 5 INVESTIGATES rode along.
Miller was also at the Sundance Film Festival with Brenda and Stephanie. They all watched the movie for the first time.
"It was an emotional rollercoaster for me," Marie said. "I got to watch myself grow through the film. It was amazing."
Stephanie hopes her son, whose story attracted the filmmakers, sees the film.
“Although I used most of his life, his mother is more than just a drug addict. She can accomplish some stuff," she said. "I hope he’s proud of me."
Even during the glamour of Sundance, The Dreamcatcher Foundation's work continues.
Brenda is drawn by a call from a young woman who is looking for help to get out. She asks the caller if she's currently with a pimp. We hear her say the girl has been on the streets since she was 11 and that she might be afraid she has nowhere to go.
"You need family," Brenda reassures the young woman. "That is what Dreamcatcher can become, is your family."
It is for women like this that Brenda wanted her story told.
"It is a hope shot for my girls," she said. "So they can say, 'Wow, look where she came from and look where she is now. She is at Sundance, you know?!'"
"Dreamcatcher," as the film is titled, earned Longinotto a Directing Award for World Cinema Documentary. The film was picked up by Showtime before the festival and is scheduled to air Friday, March 27th at 9 p.m.
A full list of the Sundance winners is available at Sundance.org.