When Jack Yonover, 13, of Wilmette was in fifth grade, he was diagnosed with a tree nut allergy. The unexpected news not only meant a scary medical condition to navigate, but also transformed his relationship with food.
Suddenly birthday parties, dinners out and visits to friends’ homes brought new hurdles. He and his family were at the mercy of ingredient lists and often-uninformed servers.
“There was a long transitional period where life completely changed,” he says. “I went from not having to deal with a food allergy to all of a sudden having to read every label, be extremely careful and carry my EpiPen with me.”
Some kids might have focused their energy on complaining about their bad luck. (And who could blame them?) But not Jack. A movie fanatic, he decided to make a documentary to educate people about the fears and frustrations of food allergies.
“I didn’t have a background in filmmaking,” Jack says, without a hint of irony considering his age. So he enrolled in filmmaking classes at Facets Multimedia in Chicago.
Then in March 2014, Jack launched a Kickstarter campaign to purchase filmmaking equipment and editing software for his project, “That Bites!” Within 48 hours he’d reached his goal of $5,400 and then far exceeded it, eventually taking in a total of $10,502.
Jack worked on the project for about a year. During that time he finalized the script and captured interview footage with medical professionals and other kids with food allergies. He even staged a birthday party and a trick-or-treating scene to show the types of situations that cause problems for the food-allergic.
Along the way he made some rookie mistakes—thinking the sound was recording when it wasn’t, for one, and failing to stock up in advance on head-lens cleaner—but, in the end, he pulled it all together in a 44-minute film that he edited himself.
Filmmaker Rebecca Halpern, who taught Jack at Facets, says the aspiring filmmaker’s enthusiasm and focus stood out in class. “When you’re 13 years old, no one expects a lot out of you,” she says. “Then you see a teen who’s able to make a documentary, marry his passion of filmmaking with raising awareness of something that’s close to him, and tell the story in a compelling way. That’s what documentary filmmaking is all about.”
According to the advocacy group Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), food allergies affect 15 million people in the U.S. and 1 in 13 kids. Jack says he hopes the film will educate as many people as possible about the realities of life with food allergies.
“All the inspiring emails we get about the impact Jack is having on them have startled me because I never thought it would be this big,” Jack’s dad, Paul, says. “It’s been an interesting ride.”
“That Bites!” premiered at Wilmette Theater on April 16 at two private screenings that raised more than $7,600 for FARE. The film has been selected for this year’s Riverside International Film Festival in Riverside, Calif., New York City’s VisionFest and Eureka Springs Indie Film Fest in Eureka Springs, Ark., where Jack is nominated for “Best Young Filmmaker.” So far, several schools across the country plan to host screenings as well.
This article is part of our Incredible Kids series. Find more profiles here: