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Thursday, April 5, 2012 04:34 pm

Springfield filmmaker champions social issues

Latest project focuses on women with breast cancer

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The cast of Jump In, Michael Higgenbottom, Danielle Ward, Dingani Beza, Sheree Bynum, Mel Roberson, Karen Malina Wite and Kevin Craig West.
PHOTO COURTESY OF JUSTIN HARRIS PHOTOGRAPHY

Springfield filmmaker Kimberly Conner says there are many advantages to filming movies in Springfield.

“Springfield is an excellent place to make films because you don’t have a lot of the obstacles that you have to deal with in larger cities like New York and Chicago,” Conner said. “Sponsors and businesses are more likely to work with you in this type of atmosphere.”

Conner, the writer, director and producer of the independent feature film Jump In, said that shooting the film in the Springfield area allowed the project to receive support from the Springfield and Central Illinois Film Commission, as well as having the opportunity to work with local cast and crew members.

 Jump In was filmed March 17-26 and was shot at Springfield locations such as Bourbon Street Rhythm & Ribs, the University of Illinois Springfield, the Old State Capitol, Flawless Cuts, Di Piero’s and Palermo’s restaurants and a few private homes.

In July 2011, a casting call was coordinated with the Screen Actors Guild in Chicago and yielded some of the actors. Several crew members were hired locally in Springfield through the volunteer organization Springfield and Central Illinois Film Commission.

Dean Williams, president of the commission, says the organization has helped bring in $11.5 million worth of production work to Springfield. Williams says the commission works on an annual budget of $275.

“All the members of the commission are professionals with much film experience under their belts,” he says.

The cast and crew of Jump In include about 12 actors, 10 crew members and 50 or so extras and volunteers. Ward 9 Ald. Steve Dove was one of the extras.

“It’s been so great to work here in Springfield and to find crew members right here. That’s a challenge because the pool of qualified candidates is obviously not as large as in a major metro area, but we have some really talented people who live right here in Springfield and work in the film industry,” Conner says.

Jump In director Kimberly Conner (left) helps set up a camera with Richard Falzone (right), the director of photography for the film.
PHOTO COURTESY OF JUSTIN HARRIS PHOTOGRAPHY


Lead actors and actresses for Jump In include Karen Malina White (Lean on Me and television roles on “The Cosby Show,” “A Different World,” and “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”); Michael Higgenbottom (N-Secure and The Grace Card); and Dingani Beza (Asylum, Jack and Jill, and “Harry’s Law”).

Conner, owner of Predestined Arts and Entertainment, made her directorial debut in 2009 with This Life Ain’t Pretty, a film dealing with the issue of HIV/AIDS, which was named one of the Top 5 Best Short Films of 2009. Predestined Arts and Entertainment develops independent projects “guaranteed to entertain the vast audience through books and films and other creative endeavors that promise to enlighten and encourage the community.”

Jump In is a romantic comedy/drama about a law school graduate and single mother, Troy Alexander, who returns to Chicago with a plan to pass the bar exam and start her own law practice. However, while preparing to take the bar exam, Troy receives a phone call that she has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Troy’s plans for her future and her love life are put on hold, and she is now forced to confront issues from her past.

Conner, a two-time breast cancer survivor, says that she learned that she had breast cancer after writing the first draft of the screenplay in 1997.

“This film will raise awareness about breast cancer, which we have all been touched by either directly or indirectly,” Conner said. “I’m a two-time breast cancer survivor, so quite naturally I’d like to do socially conscious issues. Those are the types of projects that I like to be attached to.”

Conner says that the story of the film is also about “family, love, forgiveness and not being afraid to take risks in life.”

Conner, a Springfield resident and employee of the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, says she hopes that Jump In will be released in the summer of 2012.

After it is released, Conner plans to self-distribute the film with the hope that a studio picks it up.

“We are hoping that this film, like the last film, will open up doors for us,” Conner said.

Contact Neil Schneider at nschneider@illinoistimes.com.