November 16th is the International Day for Tolerance — a perfect day to celebrate Gaby Muñoz, or “Chula the Clown.”

In 2015, my partner Jess was browsing online and came upon an article on this very site about Chula entitled “I Am A 33-Year-Old Full-Time Clown And I Want To Tell You My Story.” We were immediately enchanted by her style and mission. Over the course of her career, Chula has spent over a decade working alongside other professional clowns in refugee camps, and areas affected by conflict. She also has created several solo shows that have received acclaim around the world.

More info: un.org | mightyoakgrows.com

Chula at the Sea Glass Carousel. Battery Park, NYC

Chula in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, NYC

Chula in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, NYC

At the time of discovering the article, Jess and I were just developing our animation studio, Mighty Oak, and constantly looking for outside inspiration, not just what people were creating, but why they created at all. We decided to write Chula an email inviting her to New York to meet us. Surprisingly, she agreed! Our film collaboration began there, and continued in Mexico City where I went to shoot Chula in her home city and her popular stage performance Perhaps, Perhaps… Quizas, Quizas. Like with many documentary projects, the process of getting to know the person or people you are filming also becomes an opportunity to build a new friendship. I had the chance to visit Chula’s home, spend time with her talented fellow-clown husband Sampo, and see the intense care that goes into prepping for her shows night after night. It became clear to me that she puts the same level of thoughtfulness into her sold-out performances as she does with each individual interaction.

Chula at the Sea Glass Carousel. Battery Park, NYC

Chula at the pier. Red Hook, Brooklyn, NYC

Chula in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, NYC

These photos are a combination of stills and outtakes from the film. The final short, “Chula, With Invisible Strings,” travels through Chula’s personal reemergence after waking up from a coma and explores her unique approach to healing others. It is threaded together using a combination of live-action footage, photographs of her travels, and hand-crafted animation to visualize personal moments. We used chalk and cut paper to represent Chula’s world, one that features tactility and whimsy.

Chula at the pier. Red Hook, Brooklyn, NYC

Chula riding a large swan. Chapultepec Park: Mexico City, MX

Chula “asleep” at home. Mexico City, MX

A moment that stood out to me during our conversations was when talking about her relationship with Doctors Without Borders after the 2013 Philippines typhoon. While the organization was originally a bit skeptical of clowns coming to the aid of those in need, they soon understood that the survivors of this disaster “needed another type of medicine, a soul medicine.”

Behind the Scenes: Chula and I caught in a down pour in Mexico City. Photo by PJ Rountree

Behind the Scenes: Chula and I in Mexico City. Photo by PJ Rountree

Chula, With Invisible Strings

At a time when our political climate feels fractured and disjointed, Chula’s “soul medicine” speaks louder than ever. Chula’s perspective and work are one of connectedness and humanity. I am proud to share her story in celebration of tolerance, humor, beauty, and clowning!