Dummy Jim tells story of deaf-mute Scotsman who cycled to the Arctic Circle

Dummy Jim tells story of deaf-mute Scotsman who cycled to the Arctic Circle

The film will have its UK premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2013

Local filmmaker Matt Hulse has spent 13 years creating Dummy Jim, a part-fiction, part-documentary, impressionistic portrait of James Duthie, a deaf-mute Scotsman who cycled 6000 miles to the Arctic Circle and back.

On one of the inspirations for the film

‘My interest in deafness stems not from personal experience but from Carson McCullersThe Heart is a Lonely Hunter, set in the deep south of the USA. The central character is a deaf-mute called Singer who is left isolated when his childhood friend (also deaf-mute) is jailed. An eclectic bunch of troubled (hearing) townsfolk emerge and pivot around Singer. He appears to offer them solace and calm understanding, listening to their troubles. The rather pathetic tragedy is that, of course, Singer can’t hear them (it’s a clumsy conceit, I’ll admit, but it grabs me). Duthie reminded me of Singer, and offered an opportunity: a unique silent central character onto whom much can be projected.’

On Duthie’s incredible journey

‘According to Joy Buchan, Duthie’s second cousin, the cyclist left for his 6000 mile trip with just “a couple of jumpers, khaki knickers, a simple map … I’m not even sure he had a tent.” She promised me not to tell anyone that he also smelled “awful strong of mothballs”. He was also apparently very fond of egg custard and American ice cream pie (I am still trying to find out what this latter dessert actually is).’

On using archive footage

‘We’ve woven some rather beautiful archive footage into the film. Some of this, featuring James Duthie himself, is from the cyclist’s own 16mm holiday movies. On the final day of the shoot we were gifted the material by Alma Smith and Vera Buchan who had unearthed it in their attic in St Combs. Before that discovery, we’d only had a couple of formal portraits of Duthie, a postcard, hearsay and a few snaps from his journal to work with.’

On happy accidents

‘The scenes in which the pannier springs loose from the bike are genuine accidents, fortunately captured on camera. The crew improvised with the unexpected situation and these instances of happenstance now stand as important moments of struggle and self-reflection in the film. As Duthie may have said: “he who makes no mistakes makes nothing.”’

Dummy Jim, Cineworld, Thu 20 & Fri 21 Jun.


Dummy Jim

  • 4 stars
  • 2013
  • UK
  • 1h 30min
  • Directed by: Matt Hulse
  • Written by: Matt Hulse
  • Cast: Marie Denarnaud, Samuel Dore, Nille Hannes

Film about the 1951 expedition by James Duthie, who cycled alone from his Scottish village to the Arctic Circle. Presented as a mixture of documentary, fiction and visual poetry.