‘The Jump’ Director Talks Celebrating ‘Our Local James Bond’ in Lithuanian Documentary (Video)

TheWrap Screening Series: Documentarian Giedrė Žickytė explains what drew her to the 1970 story of a Soviet man who defected by jumping onto an American boat

Lithuanian documentary director Giedrė Žickytė was in Los Angeles a few years ago when a friend said to her, “Have you heard about the guy who jumped from a Soviet ship to an American ship?”

The friend was referring to a Lithuanian sailor named Simas Kudirka who defected from the Soviet Union by jumping off a Soviet vessel and on board a U.S. Coast Guard cutter ship in November of 1970. The man’s name was Simas Kudirka and, though his action sparked a diplomatic crisis during the height of the Cold War, Žickytė had not heard about him. When she did, she was gripped with fascination.

“This story reveals so many things,” Žickytė said in a conversation with TheWrap’s editor in chief Sharon Waxman. “One of them is you see all about the political games and about the fate of a simple human being. We see that Simas was used by both systems: By the Soviet system and then later by the American system.”

Žickytė’s subjects in the film include former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, now 98, and Simas Kudirka himself, now 92, who traveled back onto the ship where he made his jump more than 50 years ago, along with Žickytė and her camera crew.

“You understand that he’s alive and you understand he’s survived,” she said. “But he’s so emotional about his experience. And this is why I love documentary filmmaking, because you start thinking that [his emotional reaction] is happening right in front of your eyes. His rescue story was a miracle.”

While abstaining from giving away too much of her film’s plot, Žickytė did refer to the other metaphorical jumps (or twists) that occur in the unraveling tale. “What happened after to the protagonist of the story, that was stranger than fiction,” she said. “His fate about whether he should be returned to the Soviets was the subject of much debate.”

Žickytė expressed her excitement that “The Jump” is currently playing in Lithuanian movie theaters. “The film is playing in cinemas for nine weeks already,” she said.

“After the Bond movie [“No Time to Die”], it’s a very popular film. [Simas Kudirka] is our local James Bond,” she added with a laugh. “He’s not using the Internet, but I’m getting so many messages from young people about him, so I’m calling him to read what people are saying about him. He is their inspiration. They want to know if they can bring him some things.”

“The Jump” is eligible in the Best Documentary Feature category at the upcoming Oscars. It will also be released in March in the United States and Canada.

To watch the trailer and the entire conversation with Giedrė Žickytė, click on the video above.