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Rockefeller Arts Center travel series opens with look at Cuba
Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Rockefeller Arts Center travel series opens with look at Cuba

A man works in one of Cuba’s tobacco fields.

Doctors go to school for free, but end up living in one-bedroom apartments. Workers must retire at age 60, but their pensions generally do not equate to a livable income. Lines are long and necessities are expensive, yet people share a special camaraderie.

These and other glimpses into life in Cuba will be revealed when Rockefeller Arts Center presents “Cuba's Secret Side” on Saturday, Oct. 17 at 7:30 p.m. in King Concert Hall.

 The Cuban flag is displayed from a balcony.

Karin Muller, a Swiss-born author, filmmaker and photographer, will present her film in person. It is the opening event in Rockefeller Arts Center’s World Travel Series.

Filmed before the recent improvement in relations between the U.S. and Cuba, Muller spent three months undercover to make this film. Despite being arrested more than a dozen times, she was able to document a side of Cuba that is rarely ever seen by foreigners.

The filmmaker said that her initial impression of Cuba changed during her stay.

“In America, we are inundated with propaganda about Cuba, as they are about us,” Muller said. “In reality, the Cubans are friendly, fun, generous and kind. Cuba is safe and very welcoming to Americans.”

The Cuban Revolution (1953-1959) brought Fidel Castro to power and the resulting system of government still structures the way of life in Cuba today.

That lifestyle is very different from what is found in the United States, but most Cubans appear to be satisfied with their circumstances.

Muller found there is camaraderie among the Cuban people. Many have little to give; yet they are still willing share what they have.

This sense of camaraderie comes out throughout the film, particularly in a scene featuring a pizza parlor on the third floor of a building.

There was no phone for the pizza place, so customers would shout their order up to the owner. The owner would then pass down the pizza in a basket tied to a rope. The customer does not pay for the order until after the pizza is delivered, signifying the trust and honesty within the Cuban culture.

Another portion of the film focuses on a rural doctor. This “neighborhood doctor” has 2,000 patients and she visits them at their homes frequently for checkups. This woman hitchhikes to work and only has running water one hour a day in her one-bedroom apartment.

The doctor knows that if she were to work overseas she could afford better housing, earn a higher salary and possibly have a car upon her return to Cuba. The dilemma is that she would have to leave her family behind.

Muller captured these and other portraits of life in the island nation and she shares them throughout “Cuba’s Secret Side.”

An expert lecturer on Japan for the National Geographic Society, Muller has been featured on National Public Radio and Minnesota Public Radio’s Marketplace. Her writing appears in National Geographic and Traveler magazines. Her first expedition took her to the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Vietnam, which enabled her to produce a PBS television special, “Hitchhiking Vietnam,” and a companion book by Globe Pequot Press of the same name. Her second expedition took her to the Inca Road, a four-thousand-mile trek from Quito, Ecuador to Santiago, Chile resulting in a television series, “Along the Inca Road” for National Geographic and a book published by the Adventure Press. Muller’s third adventure took her to Japan, where she lived with a pre-Buddhist mountain ascetic cult, joined a samurai-mounted archery team, and completed a 1,300-kilometer pilgrimage around Shikoku. This journey was published in “Japanland: A Year in Search of Wa,” as both a documentary series and book.

The World Travel Series is sponsored by Fredonia Place as part of the Lake Shore Savings Season.

“Cuba’s Secret Side” is a general admission event. Tickets are available at the door or in advance through the Fredonia Ticket Office in the Williams Center (673- 3501 or

One child 12 and under is admitted free with each adult ticket purchased.

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