Not everyone in Santa Monica drives a Porsche and is writing a screenplay. (Actually, maybe the screenplay part is true.) But when a 13-year-old told me he was writing, directing and producing a movie, I was a tad skeptical. Guess what? Jack Yonover’s movie has won a handful of awards and is screening in Hollywood tomorrow! (And no, he doesn’t drive a Porsche. He’s 13!)
“That Bites: The Fears and Frustrations of Food Allergies” is an informative and touching 44-minute documentary. Jack is the nephew of a friend I met last January when his family vacationed here from Illinois. Be advised, Jack is 13 going on 30.
On the “13” side, Jack loves sports, especially the Colts. In fact, his late grandfather was instrumental in bringing them to Indianapolis. Jack proudly wears his Andrew Luck jersey even though the Colts are a dismal 3-5. (But, as Jack points out, they’re still in 1st place in the AFC South.)
On the “30” side, among Jack’s passions are movies, Steven Spielberg and Alfred Hitchcock. Talk to Jack about Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” and he’s like James Lipton, Jr.
The origin of “That Bites” began two years ago. A bit of a fussy eater, Jack’s mom, Jill, encouraged him to try some cashews. Within a minute, Jack was experiencing a fast developing rash and having difficulty breathing.
Fortunately, Jack’s dad, Paul, a doctor, instructed Jill to administer Diphenydramine (benadryl) from the medicine cabinet. But soon, Jack was diagnosed with life threatening food allergies. From that moment on, his life changed radically.
Before Jack, I had little awareness of food allergies or that it affects 1 in every 13 children. (Roughly two kids in every classroom.) According to the Centers for Disease Control, food allergies have increased 50 percent between 1997 and 2011. And there is no clear answer why!
I’d assumed that food allergies meant those afflicted merely had to stay away from certain foods and they’d be fine. But when you talk to Jack, or watch his movie and see a host of kids bravely coping with the disease, you can’t help but be touched.
Food allergies affect Jack every time he goes to a restaurant. He has to assiduously ask the server if any nut products might be in the meal, or even used in the cooking. Or if he goes to overnight camp, a friend’s birthday party or eats at the school cafeteria, he has to be constantly diligent. 24/7, Jack has to carry Epinephrine (adrenaline) a self-injectable medication, in case he goes into anaphylaxic shock.
After living with food allergies for two years, Jack (the old soul) decided to make a documentary to share his experience and those of so many other kids. Ever resourceful, he went on Kickstarter and before long he had raised a $10,000 budget. (I should take lessons.)
Jack wrote a script and then reached out to other kids coping with food allergies to tell their stories. The entire group is so appealing as they tell their individual stories. In narrating “That Bites,” Jack’s voice reflects empathy for others way beyond his years.
One scene follows Jack going to the doctor for a “food challenge.” After many years, some food allergies just mysteriously disappear. One can only imagine the relief for the child and his family.
As Jack undergoes the “food challenge,” we watch as he stoically submits to a food he’s allergic to. You can feel how desperately he hopes he’s outgrown the disease.
Unfortunately, as he quickly has trouble breathing, it’s clear Jack has failed the food challenge. Bravely, he hides his deep disappointment. (You just want to hug him.) Jack’s clearly sad but his youthful courage is inspiring.
Forever promoting food allergy awareness, Jack’s appeared on Chicago television five times. He’s currently seeking a sales agent specializing in documentaries (a distributor) for “That Bites” so his message can be heard by a larger audience. As for college, one day, Jack hopes to attend USC film school. (Or hopefully, my alma mater, UCLA.)
Jack won’t be flying out for tomorrow’s “That Bites” screening. Thanks to his late grandfather, he’ll be in a 50-yard line seat at Sunday’s Colts-Broncos game. (Likely Peyton Manning’s final appearance in Indy.) But Jack won’t be sitting. He’s such an enthusiastic fan he stands throughout the whole game. So, go Colts! And, most importantly, go Jack Yonover!
To follow young Jack, go to www.that-bites.org. “That Bites” screens Nov. 7 at 2:30 p.m. at 5300 Melrose Ave. Go to: email@example.com, and click on “Films.” That Bites is in Youthfest Films#2. Meanwhile, “old” Jack is at firstname.lastname@example.org.