The Defection of Simas Kudirka

The Defection of Simas Kudirka is a 1978 American made-for-television drama film based on actual events, featuring Alan Arkin as Simas Kudirka, a Lithuanian merchant seaman in Soviet-era 1970 who attempts to defect to the United States by jumping onto a U.S. Coast Guard cutter. Among the movie's awards are two Emmys and another three Emmy nominations. The movie was directed by David Lowell Rich.

The Defection of Simas Kudirka
Written byBruce Feldman
Directed byDavid Lowell Rich
StarringAlan Arkin
Music byDavid Shire
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
Producer(s)Gerald W. Abrams
Richard Briggs
Gerald I. Isenberg
Bruce Sallan
Editor(s)John A. Martinelli
Running time100 minutes
Production company(s)Paramount Television
The Jozak Company
Original networkCBS
Original release
  • January 23, 1978 (1978-01-23)


The movie revolves around the true events of a Lithuanian man named Simas Kudirka, who was at the time was a radio operator on a Soviet fish processing vessel. When his ship meets at sea with a U.S. Coast Guard cutter near Martha's Vineyard in 1970, Kudirka makes a dramatic leap from the deck, landing on the USCGC Vigilant. He announces that he wishes to defect, but confusion over U.S. policy on defections prevents the Americans from offering him asylum. As the crew of the Vigilant looks on helplessly, Soviet officers are allowed to board the cutter, beat and bind Kudirka, and drag him back to his own ship. This tinderbox political incident occurs during a Soviet/U.S. conference over fishing rights. The ultimate fate of Simas Kudirka provides the core of the script.[1][2]



The movie was filmed in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, and off the coast of New Hampshire and southern Maine. The final scene shows Simas Kudirka (Arkin) and his wife Genna (Shirley Knight) reviewing the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Vigilant, the ship onto which Kudirka jumped. The actual ship shown in the movie was the USCGC Decisive at its home port of New Castle, New Hampshire. The TS State of Maine, the training ship of Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, Maine was used as the Russian fish factory ship. Many students at MMA were extras as Russian crewmen.[3]


In 1978, the movie won two Emmys and was nominated for another three.[4]

Winners were:

  • Outstanding Directing in a Special Program - Drama or Comedy: Director David Lowell Rich
  • Outstanding Film Editing for a Special: John A. Martinelli

The nominated categories and nominees were:

  • Outstanding Achievement in Music Composition for a Special (Dramatic Underscore): David Shire
  • Outstanding Performance by a Supporting Actor in a Comedy or Drama Special: Donald Pleasence
  • Outstanding Writing in a Special Program - Drama or Comedy - Original Teleplay: Bruce Feldman

In 1979, the movie won an "Eddie" from the American Cinema Editors, USA, for Best Edited Television Special, awarded to John A. Martinelli.

Home video

The movie has been released on DVD on-demand format.[5]


  1. - The Defection of Simas Kudirka
  2. Turner Classic Movies - Overview for The Defection of Simas Kudirka
  3. The Defection of Simas Kudirka on IMDb
  4. - Awards for The Defection of Simas Kudirka
  5. - Home Video releases of the movie
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