Review – the Claire Burch film Yume: Elegy for a Street Survivor


The late protagonist of Claire Burch’s film Yume: Elegy for a Street Survivor’s chosen name comes from the Japanese word for ‘dream.’ In the same spirit, the entire piece conjures a dreamlike, imaginative feeling, more reminiscent of a coffeehouse open mic on a summer day than a traditional funeral service.

Starting with the atmospheric opening sequence, the movie shows us Yume’s life and times in Berkeley through the effects he has had on people young and old. Viewers learn of Yume through a series of actions and images narrated by background music. His friends burn a dollar bill, illustrating his gentle detachment from the material world, and pass around his last pack of cigarettes. At other times the music disappears and we watch officials and others interview those who knew the elderly Yume, who passed away in a hospital from respiratory distress.

Through filmmaking techniques such as tilting the camera for unusually angled shots, zooming in on small groups of people, and using offscreen voices to represent those outside of Yume’s normal social circle, the piece conveys a sense of how it can feel to live as part of a subculture. These people have their own chosen friends, family, and home, into which people from other walks of life (coroners, reporters, doctors, etc)  drift periodically for different reasons and who may or may not understand the lives and values of the city’s ‘street survivors.’


There is no one ‘narrator’ – groups of people tell the story piece by piece, laughing and thinking as they remember incidents from the life of this educated ‘Buddhist hippie’ who created art while sparing the lives of insects in his path. And it is this laughter and the diversity of personalities represented which prevents this piece from becoming melodramatic. The documentary is nostalgic and poignant, but finds space to celebrate life while acknowledging the loss of the protagonist and so remains a watchable human story rather than a polemic.  

This film came across with a spirit of gentleness and true tolerance – encouraging respect for the dignity of other living beings without being preachy. At a length of 45 minutes and expressed through normal language, Claire Burch’s Yume: Elegy for a Street Survivor is highly accessible, fun to watch, and recommended for all audiences.


Claire Burch’s website:

Further film and contact information:

Elegy for a Street Survivor (Yume)

Color / sound / 45 minutes / ISBN 0-916147-82-7

This piece follows the strange memorial that takes place after Yume, a
homeless man who had been a “Buddhist hippie” dies of respiratory
distress. His friends gather to perform odd rituals such as passing out
his last pack of cigarettes, burning money in his honor, etc. As their
feelings and tributes are expressed, the little knot of street people
begins to take on the aspects of a Felliniesque procession. A
fascinating addition to annals of contemporary sociology as well as an
absorbing tale.

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