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National Geographic explorer returns to VVC

New films seeks truth about Cuba

VICTORVILLE • Some say the Caribbean nation of Cuba is a tropical paradise, while others claim it's a police state people want to escape.

National Geographic explorer Karin Muller decided to see with her own eyes to discover the truth about a country shrouded in propaganda. After three months of undercover journeys and 14 arrests, she put together a new documentary called “Cuba’s Secret Side.”

Muller will visit Victor Valley College on Sunday to present the film and share her experience with the audience.

“You realize there’s a lot of propaganda and a lot of stereotyping,” Muller said by phone Friday. “That’s what makes me want to go and see what’s really going on. ... The goal of this film was to humanize the culture and the people.”

Muller’s documentaries aren’t the typical travel shows where everything has been planned out, sometimes staged to present stereotypical images.

She goes on each trip up to a year, long enough that it becomes her way of life. She tries to travel alone and carry only what fits in a backpack so she can blend in and be unobtrusive. She lives, eats and sleeps with locals and usually prepares no itinerary.

In Cuba, she stayed with fisherman, farmers, country doctors and a Santeria priestess. All the footage was shot between 2008 and 2011, she said.

“Cuban people are fabulous,” Muller said. “They’re friendly, they’re generous, they’re innocent, they’re sexy, they’re incredibly fun, they’re totally crazy. If you go to Cuba, you go for the people. I fell in love with the people. I don’t care about the government because Cuban people are extraordinary.”

She visited the country on a tourist visa, not a journalist visa, because she wanted to talk freely with the locals. If you get caught working on a tourist visa you could get imprisoned, Muller said.

Because she was carrying around a professional video camera, police stopped her and took her to the stations. Officers were not able to find her profile on the Internet, however, because their connection was slow and the Cuban government was blocking many foreign websites, Muller said.

“To get away, you need to have a really good story to tell them,” Muller said. “Basically, you want to get out before you get bumped up the ladder.”

But Muller doesn’t visit these countries as an ignorant foreigner.

She learns the local language. She researches as much as possible about the history, religion and culture, reading dozens of books and literature, Muller said.

“Cuban economy is a failure. Everybody recognizes that,” she said. “But they have incredible health care, education and small social inequality.”

“I want people to exit that movie being fond of the Cubans,” she said. “Whatever the politics and economics, people were wonderful. That’s what I would like people to take away.”

Sunday’s presentation will start at 2:30 p.m. at the Victor Valley College Performing Arts Center. General admission is $7, while students with ASB cards get in for free.

Search “Cuba’s Secret Side” on YouTube to watch the trailer of the documentary.

Tomoya Shimura may be reached at (760) 955-5368 or TShimura@VVDailyPress.com. Follow Tomoya on Facebook at facebook.com/ShimuraTomoya.

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