Skookum Jim and The American Dream

“… a magical film and heartbreaking, and I could watch and listen to your voices again and again.”

” … a sensory feast of vivid poetry, harmonious voices, exquisite drawings and evocative music …”

“The rhythmic heartbeat of this piece will compel you forward, wrapping you in a tale of creation, compulsion and devastation.”

” … This film is a rare weaving of sensibilities … “

Skookum Jim and The American Dream is a forty minute film based on poet Chrys Salt’s narrative poetry sequence “Skookum Jim and The Klondike Gold Rush”.

The film is the work of Scottish artist and film-maker Ken Smyth with a soundtrack by composer Richard Ingham and readings by Chrys and Canadian actor and broadcaster Peter Marinker.

The sequence explores the impact of the Klondike gold rush on both the indigenous people of Yukon in north-west Canada, and on the fake-news-inspired stampede of get-rich-quick prospectors. It raises issues of racism, cultural imperialism and environmental destruction.

The project has been generously supported by Creative Scotland.

Skookum Jim and The American Dream – Trailer (5 mins)

‘Skookum’ Jim Mason ( Tagish First Nation name Keish), his nephew Patsy Henderson  with his Californian friend George Carmack  made the first discovery of gold that inspired The Klondike Gold Rush in N W Canada, 1896 – 1899. George Carmack ‘married’ Jim’s sister Kate.

The ensuing ‘gold fever’ wrecked lives, livelihoods, the environment, culture and way of life of the First Nation people.

This film and the book on which it is based is a gift to the First Nations of Yukon, many of whom still strive to regain the way of life they lost.

While George Carmack  squandered his fortune from the gold rush on a continuing quest for gold, Skookum Jim’s wealth was put in trust and the interest generated used to obtain a better standard of health and education for First Nation People of Yukon. It helped to found The Skookum Jim Friendship Centre in Yukon’s capital, Whitehorse, which, thanks to Jim’s legacy continues to this day.

The Creative Team

Chrys Salt

Chrys Salt is a poet with roots deeply planted in the theatre.  She has performed her work on BBC radio, and read at venues and festivals world-wide.  In 2019 she was International Poet at The Tasmania Poetry Festival. She has been recipient of a National Media Award (CRS), a New Writing Bursary (English Arts Council), a Fringe First (Edinburgh Festival) and several  Creative Scotland Bursaries including one to travel to Canada in 2017 to research her collection Skookum Jim and The Klondike Gold Rush and another to produce this film. In 2014 she was awarded an MBE for Services to the Arts in The Queen’s Birthday Honours list. She is Artistic Director of The Bakehouse Community Arts and the BIG LIT Festival based in Scotland.

Ken Smyth by Pam Kelly

Ken Smyth is an artist, graphic designer and art-house publisher  (Hatterick’s House) whose career has spanned the development of digital technology. He is increasingly interested in mixed-media projects and collaborations and has produced two previous short films with Chrys Salt, combining her poetry with his own artwork and newly-composed music. He is as comfortable behind the camera as with editing the final film product and has produced many short performance-based films for The Bakehouse Community Arts and other local projects.

Richard Ingham

Richard Ingham is known world-wide as a saxophonist, composer and musical director, but has also held academic posts at St Andrews University (where he was composer in residence) and Aberdeen University, and is author of the Cambridge Companion to the Saxophone (Cambridge University Press). He has a long list or compositions including work with poet Brian Johnstone: he first met Chrys when she performed Robinson based on Johnstone poems. Before the Skookum project he composed Music for the Book of Deer, a twelve  movement suite celebrating the astonishing 10th century gospel book from Aberdeenshire that received a Creative Scotland award.

The Performers

 Peter Marinker grew up in Canada but has a long track record as an actor in the UK – in theatre, film, TV and radio – including regular readings on Poetry Please. He is also closely associated as a director and performer of Samuel Beckett’s poetry and plays. From his earliest days Peter has read poetry with music (often jazz) and here he reads alongside Chrys Salt.  The voice recording was made by Josh Hayward at OMUK Studios in London.

Peter Marinker
Recording at OMUK Studios

The Band

The Band recorded the music in isolation and the soundtrack was then created in the studio through the technical wizardry of Richard Ingham. In addition to Richard, the band comprised ….

May Halyburton studied double bass at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. She held the post of sub principal bass with Orquestra Simfonica de Balears, Palma de Mallorca. Since returning to Scotland in 1998, she has freelanced extensively throughout the UK as an orchestral and chamber musician. May has a very eclectic taste in music and also performs with various jazz ensembles, as well as performing and recording with a variety of singer/songwriters. May is a highly sought after teacher and works with students of all ages, with a special interest in mini bass tuition. She is the author and creator of the children’s books with music project, “Around the World with Bessy.”

Robin Mason works as a freelance cellist/composer based in Edinburgh. Coming from a core discipline of classical music, he nevertheless considers himself very fortunate to have been able to work with his cello extensively in the fields of theatre, contemporary dance, film, jazz etc, often working as composer/performer. Recent composition projects have included ‘Mine-walking’ a film collaboration with visual artist Jane Brettle looking at ex-mining landscapes in Cornwall and Lothian, and ‘Reflections of a Constant Monk’, a setting of poems by the late Lee Gershuny. Robin teaches the cello at St.Andrews and Edinburgh Napier Universities.

Fraser Burke is a professional musician based in Dundee who studied classical piano at the RSAMD in Glasgow and holds a Graduate Diploma in Jazz Performance from the University of St. Andrews. He has played with numerous bands around the UK and Europe performing folk, rock, classical, jazz and many other styles. 

Dominic Ingham is a British violinist and composer who seeks to combine violin techniques from his folk and classical background, in order to create a unique way of playing jazz violin. Dominic is currently a member of Bonsai, who are ‘one of the most talked about and critically acclaimed young bands on the UK scene’.

Reviews for Skookum Jim and The American Dream

“The imaginative marriage of poem and image, and the timbre of the voices, evokes an initial sense of mystery leading, through whorls of colour,  line-drawings, dialogue and period photos to one of wonder; then by way of ‘the eloquence of irises’ and the roll-call for the dead, to a coda whose visuals and plaintive background melodies introduce a note of disillusionment, hardship and loss … thanks again, for the lingeringly glowing experience of the film…”  Stewart Conn,  Edinburgh’s inaugural Poet laureate.

“This film is a rare weaving of sensibilities. In responding to Chrys Salt’s poems about the Klondike Gold Rush, artist and film maker, Ken Smyth, draws on a variety of styles, from landscapes suggestive of the iconic paintings of Canadian Emily Carr, to lively images drawn from old photographs and imagined storyboards. The tales that are told, by Salt herself and Canadian actor Peter Marinker, are underscored by music that matches the lyricism and melancholy of the narratives. The film explores the collision of a moment in history, characterised by ambition and hardship, with the mythical stories that were and are integral to an understanding of the land. In a moving ‘Afterword’, Chrys Salt acknowledges her distance from the world she has described; what she has given us – what the imagination has given us – is ‘your stories in my skin’.”  Tom Pow

“The rhythmic heartbeat of this piece will compel you forward, wrapping you in a tale of creation, compulsion and devastation. This creative team have responded with sensitivity and vitality to Chrys Salt’s compassionate, insightful poem and what emerges is a vivid and poignant journey for you to travel on and wonder at.” Annette Badland: Actress.

Skookum Jim and The American Dream is a magical film and heartbreaking, and I could watch and listen to your voices again and again. A terrific contribution to the literature and lore of that place and time. Congratulations!’ Daniel Lusk

“Skookum Jim and the American Dream” is a highly original art film based on poet Chrys Salt’s narrative poetry sequence about the man who first discovered gold in 19th century Yukon and thereby unwittingly instigated an invasion of his culture and homeland.  This film represents a sensory feast of vivid poetry, harmonious voices, exquisite drawings and evocative music that add further depth to the familiar story of greed, adventure and exploitation and, ultimately, the triumph of the human spirit.” Angela Patten

Showing the film

Financial arrangements:

1) Digital distribution: a fee of £10 per day with a minimum charge of £50. Free for small not-for-profit organisations.

2)Presentation with live audience:  20% of net ticket sales (after deducting sales costs). With a minimum charge of £50 per showing. Free for small not-for-profit organizations.

3) Live performances by 5 musicians and 2 readers and 1 technician: £1600 plus travel and accommodation, plus  Royalties of 5% of net ticket sales (after deducting sales costs).

Licence Agreement available on  request.


Other performance opportunities

Chrys Salt Productions also offers a number of live performance options. These will use a version of the film as part of a mixed media performance that also provides additional income for the artists involved.

Through this flexible approach the ‘event’ can be tilted towards literature, music or film audiences,  and offer texture and variety to programmes in each genre. These performance options work at different scales with different budgets. At the lower-cost end the film and soundtrack can be accompanied by one or two live readers – and should be affordable for small festivals and fringe events. Alternatively, the film can be accompanied by the five-piece band and the readers, and could form one half of an evening of music and verse.

Costs will be negotiated on a case by case basis depending on what is required and the travel/accommodation involved. Our aim is to help festivals and arts events start up again and give work to performers. You can be sure we will do our utmost to meet your needs.

If performers are involved this will be subject to a separate contract. And of course we will provide images and material that will help you promote the event.

The Book

The poem sequence for the film is a selection based on Chrys’s book Skookum Jim and The Klondike Gold Rush (Indigo Dreams Publishing 2020).

Available to order online here.

Visit Indigo Dreams Publishing

Credits and Further Information

Chrys Salt – Poet, performer

Ken Smyth – Artist, Film maker

Richard Ingham – Composer, performer

Chrys Salt & Richard Macfarlane



Chrys and Peter were recorded at OMUK Studios, Unit 2, 22 Pakenham St, London

Recording Engineer: Josh Hayward

The project has been generously supported by Creative Scotland.