In its first half hour, the documentary “The Jump” brings an invigorating immediacy to a 50-year-old Cold War incident. In 1970, a Lithuanian sailor, Simas Kudirka, jumped from a Soviet trawler onto a US Coast Guard ship off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard in an attempt to defect from the Soviet Union. (The boats lay side by side for discussions about fishing rights.)
The Soviet crewmen were allowed to forcibly remove Kudirka from the coastguard vessel and take him home, where he was supposed to meet a horrifying fate. The episode sparked protests in the United States.
To chart these events, the early scenes are mainly divided by three people. Kudirka visits the Coast Guard ship he had jumped to half a century earlier and energetically points out what happened and where.
The director, Giedre Zickyte, interweaves Kudirka’s memories with testimonials from the ship’s captain, Cmdr. Ralph W. Eustis, and Lt. cmdr. Paul E. Pakos, the director, to create a fluent account that shows how the day unfolded from multiple perspectives.
When the story shifts to the Soviet Union, Zickyte introduces a KGB interrogator who remembers interrogating Kudirka. The sailor was sentenced to 10 years in prison, but was released in 1974. In the film, Kudirka again visits a prison where he was held.
“The Jump” gets less exciting after that, partly because Kudirka, the most compelling narrator, was necessarily in the background of attempts to secure his freedom, and partly because his eventual release owed more to incredible luck than a political breakthrough. . In the film, Henry Kissinger recalls that President Gerald R. Ford intervened directly on behalf of Kudirka. “No professional diplomat would ever have done that,” he says.
Not judged. In Lithuanian and English, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 24 minutes. Rent or buy on Amazon, Apple TV and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.