Everything you need to know about travel writer and Discovery Film Series presenter, Karin Muller


Filmmaker Karin Muller heads back to her car after an afternoon of surfing at Mondos Beach in Ventura, CA on Sunday, April 22. Photo credit: Jack Kan

On Monday, May 7 at 3 p.m and 7:30 p.m., the multi-talented Karin Muller will be presenting her latest documentary film, “China: Beyond the Great Wall,” as part of the Discovery Film Series at the Marsee Auditorium.

The audience will be able to interact with her during the intermission, and after the screening.

You should not miss this opportunity, because Muller lives an extraordinary life.

Muller was born to Swiss parents in Switzerland, but grew up in Puerto Rico and Australia. She graduated from Williams College with a degree in Economics, “to please her father,” while she was “really more interested in Physics.”

She attributes her curiosity and wanderlust to her mother, a physician who “was so lucky to grow up in Tanzania.”

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Filmmaker Karin Muller catches the sunset after surfing at C Street Beach in Ventura, CA on Sunday, April 22. Photo credit: Jack Kan

Muller then joined the Peace Corps, spending two years in a marine fishery on a remote island in the Philippines. Upon her return, she worked at a management consulting firm, but quickly decided that the corporate life was not for her.

To “the utter dismay” of her parents, she quit to become a travel writer and went hitchhiking alone in Vietnam on the Ho Chi Min Trail.

Muller submitted her first travel book to 72 agents and publishers, before it was accepted. She then got the idea to make a television trailer to help sell her book. To do this, she had to learn how to make movies from scratch, but her efforts eventually paid off.

She has since authored and produced a National Geographic television series about the Inca Road, while writing an accompanying book. She put together a similar package about Japan, where she made a 900-mile pilgrimage and joined a samurai mounted archery team.

Three more PBS TV series followed, about Cuba, Sudan, and Egypt.

In Cuba, Muller had to “hide in old refrigerators” to escape from the police. After filming in Darfur in the Sudan, she had to escape through war-torn Chad to Cameroon, “smeared with henna under a hijab”.

In Egypt, she lived with garbage collectors, and was almost killed during the Morsi Revolution after being kicked to the ground by a raging mob in a village in the Nile delta. She incurred temporary blindness and a permanent back injury as a result.

This leads us to Muller’s latest documentary, which is about a changing China.

Muller takes an unconventional approach to filmmaking, weaving unusual vignettes of everyday life. For example, she focuses on specific aspects of Chinese society, such as life in a Shaolin monastery, the vagaries of matchmaking, line dancing in public parks, the sport of cricket fighting, and much more. She even got arrested by the authorities while filming in the sensitive Xinjiang region.

Muller has black belts in judo and jiu-jitsu, boxes, hang-glides, surfs, and plays on a water polo team. Besides English, she speaks German, Spanish, French, and Tagalog. She has basic working knowledge of Japanese, Arabic, Swahili, and Vietnamese. This is because she always “starts her travel research by learning the local language.”

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Filmmaker Karin Muller heads back to her car after an afternoon of surfing at Mondos Beach in Ventura, CA on Sunday, April 22. Photo credit: Jack Kan

Remarkably, she “always travels and films solo,” because she thinks that she is “actually safer (that) way,” and she relishes her independence.

At the screening, you might want to ask her why she became a car mechanic who can rap and breakdance.

Muller projects a calm sense of confidence, competence, optimism, and generosity. She has founded an educational nonprofit organization called Take2: The Student’s Point of View, which helps students develop global citizenship and leadership skills.

A Q&A with Karin Muller

Question: How was making this film different from the others?

Answer: China is extremely safe and friendly. That’s not a reflection on the other places I’ve been, but it made for a very enjoyable trip

Q: What makes China stand out from the other places you have visited?

A: Everything in China from construction to social change is happening on a grand scale. China is also something of a crystal ball – a window into our own potential future.

“China: Beyond the Great Wall” will be held in the Marsee Auditorium on Monday, May 7 at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are priced at $9 for students and seniors and $10 for general admission. Tickets can be ordered online or at the Marsee Auditorium Ticket Office.

PERSONAL DISCLAIMER: When I contacted her, Muller would only agree to be interviewed during her rare free time, which she likes to spend surfing. I do not surf, but she managed to teach me the basics in a couple of hours. She lent me her spare wetsuit since we are about the same compact build, and she even towed me out to sea when the current was too strong. She is the real deal!