Arts Festival

Simas: The Man Who Would Be Free

LIVING it up. Simas Kudirka in the Big Apple. Photograph courtesy EUFF.

IF YOU WERE living your worst life and the sliver of an opportunity presented itself for you to change it for the better, a dangerous sliver, would you grab it? The romance of the tale of Simas Kudirka, the Lithuanian radioman at sea who saw an opportunity to defect to America, and took it, took 1970s America by storm. The Jump, a brilliant and thoughtful documentary focusing on this Cold War true event is available online and without cost, as part of the 8th European Film Festival South Africa, which runs from 14 until 24 October 2021. Bookings are open.

It takes a very sophisticated understanding of storytelling to create a documentary with real footage that is unstoppable and completely compelling. It will also raise goosebumps for you. And tears. Like The Mole Agent, which featured in this year’s Encounters Film Festival, this work is a rich and moving celebration of an elderly man with important memories, but more than that, it is about how a community mobilised to save this man’s life and dignity. It is also, like accounts of Christmas day, during the First World War, where no-man’s land became a place where stereotypes of ‘The Enemy’ could be shattered.

At the peak of the Cold War, Kudirka was a young married man with two small children. He was employed on a ship and hated everything about life under Communist rule. An American ship was a literally leap away from him, in November of 1971. And he did it. He risked everything on a split second decision and caused several naval head honchos to lose their jobs, because he was given back to the Russians. He was manhandled and landed up in a Siberian jail for three years, but in taking the plunge, he grabbed the world’s collective heart and shifted from being an ordinary guy to a hero and a symbol of freedom.

The kernel of this film is about courage and bureaucracy, but it is not conveyed in any cliched or easy manner. It is also not a piece of American propaganda. It is about the complexity of following rules where human beings are concerned. You roughly know how it turned out because the man who is re-enacting the gestures of supreme courage is not a youngster. And the year is not 1971. But you remain focused on the unfolding tale because of how it has been constructed and because of the fondness with which the camera holds the present-day Simas, with his infectious enthusiasm and total vulnerability. The Jump is among the jewels of this year’s film festival. Don’t bypass this one.

The Jump is directed by Giedre Zickyte. Written by Josh Alexander and Giedre Zickyte, it is produced by Uldis Cekulis and Giedre Zickyte and features creative input by Kipras Masanauskas (music), Rimvydas Leipus (cinematography) and Thomas Ernst and Danielius Kokanauskis (editing). In Lithuanian with English subtitles, it is part of the 8th European Film Festival South Africa, screening online and without cost from 14-24 October 2021. Bookings are now open.

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