“You can’t plough a field by turning it over in your mind”. DUMMY JIM is an imaginative documentary inspired by Scottish author and long-distance cyclist, James Duthie. James Duthie was profoundly deaf, and known locally as ‘dummy Jim’. The people of his hometown Cairnbulg, Aberdeenshire, are a tight-knit fishing community, and they remember him fondly. His book, entitled ‘I Cycled Into The Arctic Circle’, is the travel journal of a three month cycling tour undertaken in the summer of 1951. Jim set off for Morocco with a mythical £12 in his pocket, a couple of jumpers and a tent. En-route he changed course and headed north to the Arctic Circle and back, a 3000 mile cycle odyssey.
When director Matt Hulse was sent the book as a present, he was struck by the stiff yet poetic language of the author, and by Jim’s touching story. The film DUMMY JIM is the result of 12 years of planning and fundraising, and sparked collaboration with the community of Cairnbulg that even found its way into the curriculum of the school-children involved. It is an unconventional documentary. The narrative is led by ‘I Cycled Into The Arctic Circle’, but time shifts between 1951 and the present-day, where Cairnbulg honours the life of James Duthie with a headstone. The film also jumps around in format, from 16mm to HD, animation and live action. Jim’s own archive footage adds a touching credibility to the narrative. Hulse knits together Jim’s story and the heritage of the community, allowing the process to involve the people of Cairnbulg in a positive way.
Hulse trained in visual arts, and layers of sound enrich the visual film narrative, from sea shanties to more abstract sounds. Hulse jumps in and out of mediums with skill and craftsmanship. He says, like a true artist, that he chooses the medium to fit the idea, not bound rigidly to one format: but you need skill and craftsmanship to pull this off. It works.
“You can’t plough a field by turning it over in your mind”.
The mood of the film is playful, creative and inspiring. The collage of archive footage and abstract narrative brings colour and warmth, and Hulse lifts the story from the slim volume Jim wrote to give his voice new life and wider relevance. There is a joyful sense of celebration of the life of Jim, and a gentle validation of the Scottish community today who join in Hulse’s project with earnest pride. The school-children read out the words of the travel journal, as does Samuel Dore, the deaf actor playing Jim on his travels.
The film possesses a rhythm of recurring themes which capture the essence of the community Jim lived in, as well as his life: themes of sea, language, ink, proverbs and knitting. Jim’s journey was ‘instructed by dreams’ and we experience it through Jim’s perspective, and that of his hometown. The book gave Jim a voice, and Hulse brings him out of obscurity with a moving visual and aural treat – there is physicality to DUMMY JIM.
Amplified sounds, sea shanties and a heart-warming true story bring us a film that is not only the small history of a lost voice in the past, but the story of how the community took Dummy Jim into their hearts and sing his life in their histories.
DUMMY JIM screens again at 10:30 am on Wednesday 25th September 2013. Click here to buy tickets.