In May 1951, James Duthie set out on a 3,000-mile solo cycling trip from his corner of northeast Scotland to northern Norway, and back again. On his return, Duthie, who was affectionately known as “Dummy Jim” because he was profoundly deaf, wrote and self-published a book, “I Cycled Into the Arctic Circle.” He sold it door-to-door to finance future trips. He was eventually killed in a road accident in 1965.
Duthie’s exploits and the esteem with which he was held in his community are warmly celebrated in Matt Hulse’s “Dummy Jim,” which premiered at the Rotterdam Film Festival yesterday and is screening there again today, tomorrow, and Saturday.
The trailer for the film (below), which combines 8mm, 16mm, and HD footage with archival material and animation into a freewheeling collage, suggests it could be a major discovery for audiences who have enjoyed the topographic art films made by such directors as Patrick Keiller, Andrew Kötting, and Grant Gee. It’s also a homespun pre-emptive strike against the upcoming Lance Armstrong biopic.
Hulse is a Scottish filmmaker and performance/installation/audio artist whose previous films include “Follow the Master” (2009), an acclaimed chronicle of a pilgrimage he took in the English South Downs with his girlfriend, Lucy, and dog, Tippy.
He was inspired to make “Dummy Jim” 13 years ago when he was given a copy of Duthie’s book. Initially budgeted at 600,000 euros, it was eventually made for £35,000 – a symbolic contemporary equivalent of the $12 traveling expenses Duthie racked up on his epic journey. Hulse describes here how the film was facilitated by his taking a more modest approach to its financing (and the contributions of family members who shot vacation footage).
Given Duthie’s deafness, “Dummy Jim” is visually driven.
“Because I wanted to know more about being deaf for this project, I went to Wolverhampton, England’s ‘deaf capital’ in 2001,” Hulse told the Rotterdam festival’s Daily Tiger. “It’s called that because, for example, a lot of subjects at its university are taught in sign language. That’s where I met Samuel Dore [who plays Duthie] and other deaf filmmakers.
“‘Deaf films’ are fascinating,” he added, “because they are super visual. For a couple of years, I organized a special festival, the Sign Language Cinema Festival, in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Sam and I have worked together before. Communicating is easy as I’ve learnt quite a lot of sign language by now. In fact, sign language is ideal for film sets as you don’t make any unwanted noises.”
A lyrical adjunct to “Dummy Jim” is Duthie’s 16mm home movie footage, recently discovered in an attic in the Scottish fishing village of St. Combs. Hulse presented clips from the footage with excerpts from “Dummy Jim” at Brooklyn’s Union Docs last November.
Watch the trailer for Matt Hulse’s “Dummy Jim”: