44th edition 21 January - 1 February 2015

Life cycle

<strong>Dummy Jim</strong>
<strong>Dummy Jim</strong>
<strong>Dummy Jim</strong>
Tiger entrant Dummy Jim recreates an epic bike ride in the 1950s. By Edward Lawrenson.

Some time during the 13-year development of Dummy Jim – a beguiling fiction-documentary hybrid that recreates a cycling journey a deaf Scotsman called James Duthie made in the early 1950s from his village in the North of Scotland to the Arctic Circle – its director Matt Hulse wrote a conventional screenplay.

It was part of a development process that included pitching the project at CineMart in 2007. 'The feedback that kept coming back was, this guy doesn't really change – there's no progression, no arc,' recalls Hulse. 'I said, what are you talking about, he starts out drinking tea and he ends up drinking coffee!'

It's actually a very telling detail. In the small Scottish village in which James Duthie lived 'the early 1950s was more like 1910': this was a community of flinty-minded staunchly Presbyterian folk who would likely have dismissed coffee drinking as an act of cosmopolitan self-indulgence.

Recreating Duthie's trip throughout post-war Europe with actor Samuel Dore, who is himself deaf, and using beautifully crafted Super-8 footage, the movie celebrates Duthie's eyes-wide-open curiosity. Based on a self-published book that Duthie, who died in 1965, wrote of his travels, the film sees Duthie emerge a changed man through his experiences.

Hulse received Duthie's book 'I Cycled into the Arctic Circle' as a gift from his mother back in 2000. 'She knew I liked self-published esoteric things,' Hulse says, adding that the book came with a note from his mother that he wasn't obliged to turn it into a film.

In fact, this set in motion a 13-year process that finally led to the completion of the feature, which receives its world premiere in the Hivos Tiger Awards Competition. A key part of the film's charm grew out of the work that Hulse undertook with the present-day inhabitants of Duthie's home town, including scenes in which children from the local school read extracts from Duthie's book.

Hulse approached the school's head teacher early on in the project: 'Basically, she looked me steely in the eye and thought: do I trust this guy. Once she was on board everything was fine, because it was through the kids that we got to talking to the community.'

Hulse initially intended to raise finance for the project through more traditional sources. But after commitments secured at CineMart fell apart, Hulse raised the bulk of his small budget through selling Dummy Jim-related merchandise on a dedicated website. The release of the soundtrack by the One Ensemble and Sarah Kenchington prior to production also helped stimulate interest in the project.

Currently working on a film idea that will see him revisit songs he and his siblings wrote when they formed a punk band aged nine, Hulse also plans to republish Duthie's original book: 'It will include my footnotes. It's a chance for me to wrap this project all up.'

Hivos Tiger Awards Competition
Dummy Jim – Matt Hulse
  • Tue 29 Jan 13:00 PA4
  • Wed 30 Jan 09:15 DJZ (press & industry)
  • Wed 30 Jan 12:15 PA6
  • Sat 02 Feb 09:30 PA2