Central graduate's film on HIV/AIDS 'puts a face on the disease'

Central graduate's film on HIV/AIDS 'puts a face on the disease'

CHAMPAIGN – Kimberly Conner knows for a fact that HIV and AIDS are not just a problem for drug users, homosexuals or bisexuals.

She had a cousin who died of AIDS-related complications after having been infected by her husband, who contracted HIV in a heterosexual affair.

Conner's cousin died four years later, and her husband passed a few years after that. Their son, who was not infected, was orphaned at 12.

Rather than just grieving, Conner went to work to raise awareness of the equal-opportunity disease. She wrote, directed and produced "This Life Ain't Pretty," a 35-minute film.

She debuted it on Dec. 1, World AIDS Day, at the University of Illinois-Springfield, and has shown it at other venues, mainly universities. On Friday evening she'll screen it on the UI campus in Urbana.

Conner, a 1988 Champaign Central High graduate, said her cousin from St. Louis lived with Conner's family intermittently while they were growing up. They were like sisters.

Conner's screenplay for her film closely follows her cousin's case.

"It's a story I felt needed to be told, the fact she was infected by HIV and that it didn't come about in any way people think you can usually get it," Conner said. "You can't continue to believe the myths out there and the stereotypes about HIV and AIDS. This puts a face on the disease."

Conner wrote "This Life Ain't Pretty" in 2005. She had auditions in Springfield, where she lives, for actors, drawing them from New York, Los Angeles and the Springfield area. She shot the short in Springfield.

Among the investors in her film, which had a $10,000 budget, were the Springfield Urban League and the Illinois Department of Public Health.

After it was released in 2009, critic Kam Williams of the online Blacktrospective named it one of the top five films of 2009. It also was a finalist in the Urban Mediamakers Film Festival.

Conner began writing screenplays in 1997. To learn more about the craft, she attended workshops and festivals and read every book she could find on the process.

She credits her interest in writing and making films to a grade school teacher who encouraged her interest in creative pursuits.

After graduating from Central, Conner graduated with honors from Eastern Illinois University's Board of Trustees Program. She minored in psychology.

She's now a lead casework specialist for the Illinois Department of Health Care and Family Services.

Conner continues to work on other film projects and is talking with investors about two feature-length ideas. She has no children, which she said likely gives her the time to make movies.

"This one took a lot of hard work, but I was just determined to do it," she said of "This Life Ain't Pretty."

"I just want people to be aware of the film. I want to raise awareness about this disease. I think there are still people afraid to talk about it in our schools and churches, and that's not going to make the problem go away. We have to address it head on."

Conner and her sister also self-published the book, "Naked Poetics," which contains poetry and art.

A two-time breast-cancer survivor, Conner also created a 2007 calendar, "Real Brothers Wear Pink," for the American Cancer Society. A society volunteer, she talks with newly diagnosed breast cancer patients.

If you go

What: Screening of short film, "This Life Ain't Pretty," written, directed and produced by Champaign native Kimberly Conner.
7 p.m. Friday.
Room 100, Gregory Hall, 810 S. Wright St., U.
See the trailer online at http://www.thislifeaintprettythemovie.com.