Described as “a totally unique mixture of documentary, fiction and playful visual poetry”, Dummy Jim charts the journey of a profoundly deaf Scotsman, James Duthie, who cycled over 3,000 miles from Cairnbulg in Scotland to the Arctic Circle (and back) in 1951. Here, director Matt Hulse explains how his low-budget film secured a Wee Tour, which starts at the Glasgow Film Theatre on Sunday 6 July.
Dummy Jim was inspired by a little-known journal penned by profoundly deaf Scots cyclist James Duthie in 1951, ‘I Cycled Into The Arctic Circle’. My Mum found a copy of it in a second-hand bookshop on Iona back in 2000 and sent it to me, including a wee note that read “Do not feel obliged to do anything with this book”. It’s a great tale of a loner’s ambition to pedal to Morocco but who ended up cycling to the Arctic Circle instead.
Due to the nature of how the film was funded – mostly crowdfunded using methods pre-dating Kickstarter – and the complex nature of the film itself (blending fiction, documentary, animation) it took a total of 13 years to reach the silver screen. This is a long time in anyone’s life – as you can imagine, the man who started the project was quite different from the man who completed it.
It was great to see Dummy Jim premiere at Rotterdam International Film Festival, in competition for a coveted Tiger Award. I admire the festival very much, and Jim would have approved of it too, on account of The Netherlands being perfectly flat for cycling. From there we UK premiered at Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) in competition for the Michael Powell Award – a great opportunity to bring together so many people who had been involved in the film over the years.
One year later, Dummy Jim has gone to festivals across England, from Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival to Cinecity in Brighton, as well as to far-flung places such as the British Film Festival in Yerevan (Armenia). This tour marks the first time the film has screened in Scotland since EIFF.
It means a lot to us because it’s a Scottish story, and I’ve worked hard to create a film that feels archetypically Scots (in the spirit of Ivor Cutler, William McGonagall and Lindsay Anderson). Jim himself was from Cairnbulg, Aberdeenshire and many of the key team are Scotland-based – myself, animator Alan Brown, musicians The One Ensemble and Sarah Kenchington, DoP Ian Dodds, not to mention the community of Invercairn who star in the film.
Described as “a totally unique mixture of documentary, fiction and playful visual poetry”, ‘Dummy Jim’ charts the journey of a profoundly deaf Scotman, James Duthie, who cycled over 3,000 miles from Cairnbulg in Scotland to the Arctic Circle (and back) in 1951 and was tragically killed in a road accident in 1965. We had such a great reception in Edinburgh, but we knew there were just so many more people who want to see the film here that haven’t yet had the chance – kindly folk who helped to get the film made, people who have been following us online for years, and those living in Aberdeenshire where the film was set and where Jim called home.
And so this tour is very much a home-coming. And we’re touring as far and wide as we can: kicking off in Glasgow on Sunday and taking in Angus, Wick, Huntly, Banchory, Mintlaw, Inverness, Portsoy and Strathdon before coming back to Edinburgh. Samuel Dore the lead actor will do the first and last dates with me and The Twelve Hour Foundation who provided the soundtrack for the film animations will join me for the full shebang, meaning each screening comes with an introduction, Q&A and a little live music.
One of the reasons behind the tour was to launch the film independently on DVD and VOD through Jukebox Kino, so it was important to me that for those coming to see the film get a great live experience that they can’t get at home.
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We were really lucky that this desire to reach audiences across Scotland came about at the same time as the creation of Film Hub Scotland, who form part of the British Film Institute’s Film Audience Network, and who are really passionate about bringing independent ‘off-beat’ films like mine to folk across the country including those with little access to cinema that is a little different, so it’s thanks to them that we’ve been able to fund the tour and to venues at a subsidised rate.
We also have help from friends at the Saltire Society who have supported the film since the UK premiere, Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival who I first screened with nine years ago and who really got behind the film last year and North East Arts Touring.
As with all things Dummy Jim, the tour is the work of maverick, independent and DIY effort, with no sales agents, distributors or commercial promoters – it’s up to me and a couple of small organisations to pull things together – to help make it easier for smaller, independent venues across the country to take a risk with an oddity of a film like Dummy Jim. All very much in the spirit of James Duthie’s original adventure.