CARLSBAD — Karin Muller was packed into a 1950’s muscle car bumping down a dirt road in Cuba when the car was waved over by the police. Inside the car, pandemonium broke loose. Her driver had broken a strict rule about picking up tourists, and was now at risk of losing his car as punishment. Right before the passengers were pulled apart for questioning, Muller turned to the driver with a cover story.
“Jaime,” she said, “I’m marrying your brother in Florida and I came to get to know your family before the wedding.” Living up to the Cuban tradition of great storytelling, the locals added on. One of the passengers, a little old lady, called out, “And you have two children Maria and Lupe.” Another passenger in the back pitched in, “And your cousin hates your fiancé!”
This is just one of the many incidences during Muller’s three months in Cuba where she had to rely on quick thinking and the help of the locals to get out of a tricky situation. To film her documentary “Cuba’s Secret Side,” Muller traveled to Cuba alone, armed with a 70-pound camera rig and a Swiss passport in order to shed light on life under Castro’s rule. The documentary was released in 2013 by PBS and captures the daily lives of the Cuban people, from the official hitchhiking system to their unique way of grocery shopping.
“The goal is to find positive stories that will connect people across cultures, that will show us Westerners, the humanity of not the culture or the event, but the individual people,” Muller said.
During her time in Cuba she was detained at least a dozen times, but thanks to the limited Internet access on the island, was free to walk away each time within hours. Before each trip, Muller spends months learning the language and researching the culture. It’s this vast amount of preparation and her propensity for solo traveling that Muller credits for her ability to navigate through potentially dangerous situations.
“What I learned is that it’s a whole lot safer to travel alone as a woman,” Muller said. “People take care of you. There are times when it can cause trouble, but if you have social awareness, what it allows you to do is blend in.”
On July 15, Muller will share her experiences at the Carlsbad Dove Library, one of her favorite lecture spots in the country.
“Events like these are dying out around the country,” Muller said. “But Carlsbad always fills up the auditorium, which is symptomatic of a highly educated, curious and thoughtful audience.”
This event is part of the Cinema Series of Carlsbad, which takes place at the Ruby G. Schulman Auditorium on Saturdays at 1:30 p.m. The program begins with a pre-show introduction led by a film expert, followed by the film screening and post-show discussion.
Since filming in Cuba, Muller has traveled to Sudan and Egypt. Like “Cuba’s Secret Side,” these documentaries capture the everyday lives of the people in these countries, from refugees to garbage collectors to nomads.
“The thread that runs through every single documentary is that they’re good people and we’re good people,” Muller said. “When you get to know that tobacco farmer and you get to know all the people in my films, that’s how we find peace.”