'Walk On' star talks about living with HIV

Jennifer Lee Preyss By Jennifer Lee Preyss

April 5, 2014 at 10:03 p.m.
Updated April 5, 2014 at 11:06 p.m.

A scene from indie film "Walk On."

A scene from indie film "Walk On."

He's a man living with HIV - making a point to live.

Born with the disease - contracted from his mother, who contracted it from her cheating addict husband - Joseph Kibler, 25, set out almost three years ago to film "Walk On," a documentary about his life and others living with the stigma of being HIV positive.

Kibler stars in and produces the film, chronicling his efforts to walk 6 miles in a Los Angeles AIDS walk, challenged by a walking disability that appears on the surface to mirror cerebral palsy.

"Walk On" premiered at Victoria TX Indie Film Fest on Saturday.

The Advocate caught up with Kibler on Saturday to discuss the documentary, which has been shown in more than 14 film festivals across the country.

Do you consider yourself a full-time AIDS activist?

Yes, absolutely. Wherever we can take the film and get involved with AIDS organizations, we will do that. We are always trying to find local organizations to team up with.

Was there ever a time during filming that you genuinely thought you may not be physically able to complete the 6 miles?

There were definitely moments where I thought that. There were challenges that came up. I got sick; I wasn't used to doing that much walking. But by the day of the walk, there were so many people and so many cameras, I didn't think about not making it. I was too distracted, and it barely dawned on me. It was the adrenaline, I suppose, that pushed me through.

Do you think people who are HIV negative will ever understand your plight?

The most important thing to take away from this movie is that I want people to see beyond the stereotypes.

I was somebody who had friends who were OK with making AIDS jokes, really bad remarks, joking about people who have AIDS are gay. But it can happen to anyone. It doesn't have one face. When my mom got it - she was everything the doctors didn't look for. And it's not necessary for people to completely understand. I always say that they have their own emotional obstacle that I won't ever know or understand or feel. So we need to be open-minded about everyone. Everyone has a story.

What reaction do audience members have after seeing the film?

The No. 1 thing I get from people after the film is the vulnerability and ease they have in talking with me and sharing their own really personal stories, personal stories that don't even have to do with HIV sometimes. I get to hear these really emotional stories just because of the film and how open I was with everyone about my story.

Where do you get your tenacity and willingness to survive and make a difference in the world at such a young age?

I was born to a stubborn Italian Catholic mother. She's always been strong and told me not give up. It's been my life's goal to do this, and it's taken me this many years to get to "normal," to get to where everyone else is already at. I went to a high school where I was talked down to, where people would come up and introduce themselves and slowly say their name, and I'd respond, "Hi, I'm Joseph. Can I help you with something?" They thought I had mental disabilities rather than a physical disability. A lot of people don't realize that having a physical disability doesn't mean they have a mental disability. No one around me has ever had any expectations for me, and there was no one my age who said, "I think you can do more." So my mentality was if no one is ever expecting anything from me, then I want to achieve more than what I would have accomplished if they were expecting me to do something with my life. I've always been in a state of trying to prove myself, and I don't think I'll ever be satisfied.

Do you foresee yourself growing old, or do you live each day like you might die tomorrow?

This year has been the changing point for me. I realized this year that "Shoot, I'm going to be here a while, and I've got to start thinking about my future. I need to probably start saving and figure out the growing up thing." I was just lucky to grow, so now that I'm growing up, I've got to figure that out.

Have there been any measurable outcomes of the film relating to people getting HIV tested or becoming more educated?

Statistically, no, but I've noticed a difference in the people we know that more people are sharing and spreading the word about HIV. And I've noticed an increase in my friends' willingness to talk about it and feel ignorant for a moment. They never wanted to ask me the hard questions before because they didn't want to offend me. It took doing the film and seeing the ups and downs of it to open that up for people.

What about future films? Is this your sole film project, or do you plan to continue to make documentaries?

I work in the film industry, so I want to continue making movies, writing screenplays or working as an actor.

Have you found love yet?

I've been in a relationship for six months now. We met online, and I now say that I don't care how I met her; I'm just glad I met her. She's 100 percent OK with my being HIV positive, and she encourages me to be open about it with others. Every day, we're getting stronger.

What's your proudest scene of the film?

Obviously, the completion of the walk was big, and being there with my mom and knowing she was there and a part of it.



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