An Evening with Karin Muller

Karin Muller, a travel journalist for National Geographic with documentaries spanning the globe, hosted a pre-screening of her latest documentary, Egypt’s Secret Side at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Union South. 

Muller presented a lecture, Artistic Inspiration From Animal Sex Lives followed by two nights of Egypt’s Secret Side pre-screenings and buffets of authentic Egyptian dishes.  Though it sounded like a wine and paint event, the lecture happened to be quite humorous and educational.  She lectured on how animals have evolved and their continued success of their species.  Informational yet shocking at times, Muller uses her wit and often takes examples from her own dating experiences to compare the mating behaviors of animals.

Topics included; promiscuity versus monogamy, what attracts mates, why fathers matter and why size matters, i.e. length of insect eye shafts.  She mostly discussed insects, non-human primates, small mammals and birds.  Though strength and virility are important, female birds often choose mates based on flamboyance or gifts provided as an indication of the type of father they will be.  She compared and contrasted testicle to body size ratios of gorillas, chimps and bonobos and how these physical attributes play a role in their social behaviors.  The night concluded with a bonus video featuring the celestial mating ritual of Leopard slugs.

The following evenings offered an optional pre-screening buffet, which is part of a travel film series hosted by the UW.  Seasoned chefs at the Union South provided a family style dinner that included an all-you-can-eat buffet featuring dishes unique to the region of the featured film; baba ghanoush, hummus, falafel, tagine, and lamb moussaka.  The other dinner guests were very informative and excited to talk about past events and looking forward to future events.

Although Muller has pre-screened other documentaries, Cuba, Japan, Sudan, this was the first I attended.  If you are familiar with any of Muller’s documentaries, you know she fully immerses herself in the culture and spends three months at a time getting the finest details of often misunderstood aspects of a country.  In Egpyt’s Secret Side, Muller settles in with a host family and wears a hijab during the film. It opens with traditional family life in Cairo by introducing the Zabbaleen, also known as trash collectors, a minority population in Egypt consisting of Coptic Christians.  She later focuses on Cairo’s upward growth of dwellings and daily vehicle compaction in and around the city.  Cairo is at the center of political and economic activity in which Muller provides a window into the issues surrounding the city’s municipal waste system and leads into bigger issues with Egypt’s civil unrest.

The second part of the film reveals upheaval and citizens protesting in the streets that goes on for days and eventually leads to angry mobs and rioting, where mostly women are the targets for attack.  She hones in on the division in political and religious beliefs.  Egyptians long for stability and are fighting to rid the country of corruption.  She flees to the countryside for relief from the protesting but only to find herself under dire situations due to the political strife.

Muller eventually makes it out of Egypt and eager to share her compelling story.  She interacts before, after and during the viewing and gave an intimate narrative of the film as well as answered questions.  Her message is this; Egypt is still a developing country and remains in conflict.  Their view of Americans is just as misguided as our view of them.  The only way to break the futile cycle is to educate one another and open ourselves to new perspectives.

I look forward to her next visit to Madison!

University of Wisconsin-Madison Union Theater Travel Adventure Series

Karin Muller is the author and filmmaker of Hitchhiking Vietnam, Cuba’s Secret Side, Sudan’s Secret Side, and Along/The Royal Inca Road.  I started following Ms. Muller in 2013 when I traveled to Vietnam with my mom.  Although Hitchhiking Vietnam was published nearly two decades ago, the spiritual journey it provided was just as relevant as learning about my mom’s life in Vietnam over 50 years ago.  It became my travel guide and inspired me to be as adventurous as Muller, at least as much as I could with my mom.



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