Six months ago, the Central Valley Community Foundation issued a call to filmmakers across the region – a call for authentic, real-life stories of the people, places, and experiences that make life here so extraordinary. This was the launch of the first annual Big Tell film contest, a first-of-its-kind grant opportunity for local filmmakers to create original mini-documentaries about the Central Valley. Out of almost 90 applications, the Central Valley Community Foundation chose ten winners to each receive grants of $5,000 to produce their short films. Thanks to a collaborative effort with CMAC and a strong partnership with Bank of America, The Big Tell was transformed into an experience our winning filmmakers won’t soon forget.

Leading up to The Big Tell Showcase, the grand finale event where all ten films would be screened before a live audience, the winning filmmakers had the opportunity to work with acclaimed, Emmy-nominated documentarian Sascha Rice. Rice served as a mentor to the ten winners, offering one-on-one sessions with each filmmaker. In these sessions, Rice guided each filmmaker through the technical and creative processes of telling their stories.

Along with members of the public, The Big Tell winners also had the opportunity to participate in a number of workshops in the days leading up to the Showcase. Over 150 people came out to workshops on topics ranging from visual effects to shooting and preserving footage shot on 8mm film. In addition to Sascha Rice, participants had the opportunity to hear from Academy Award-winning visual effects artist Professor Michael Fink. Fink is best known for his stunning visuals in films such as Braveheart, Avatar, and Life of Pi.

Sascha Rice and Professor Michael Fink (right) give a panel discussion on the ins, outs, challenges, and opportunities that exist throughout the filmmaking process. The discussion was moderated by Tim Haydock of Youthwire (left) and was held at Bitwise.

Participants try out Super 8 cameras at a workshop held by Pro8mm at CMAC.

The ten winning filmmakers enjoyed a private VIP dinner on October 19 at The Painted Table. After months of hard work, this celebration was all about recognizing the talented filmmakers the night before the Showcase!

Attendees at the VIP dinner listen to remarks from CVCF President and CEO, Ashley Swearengin.

Sascha Rice and Michael Fink speak to attendees of the VIP dinner.

On the evening of October 20, hundreds flocked to Warnors Theatre in downtown Fresno to see the completed films for the first time. Guests first experienced a taste of Hollywood by walking the red carpet for a photo op, but the real treat came when the house lights went down and the first film began playing. From the tale of iconic California Gold Rush hero Joaquin Murrieta, to the challenges and triumphs of a Syrian refugee family living in Fresno, to the healing power of dance to conquer one’s demons, each film was unique, powerful, and authentically Central Valley. By the end of the evening, when local musician Lance Canales took to the stage to treat the audience with a special live performance, there were plenty of reasons to stand up and cheer.

Volunteers from Fresno’s Leading Young Professionals (FLYP) pose on the red carpet!

Filmmaker Paula Yang (left), Bank of America Senior Vice President Mark Riley (inside left), and Ashley Swearengin (center) award certificates honoring the brave sacrifices of Hmong veterans who served in the Vietnam War. Paula’s film, “Forgotten Veterans of the Vietnam War” focused on their stories.

The Central Valley Community Foundation wishes to extend a huge thank you to Bank of America, CMAC, Sascha Rice, Michael Fink, FLYP, and of course, our amazing filmmakers for making the first annual Big Tell an unforgettable experience. We can’t wait for you all to see what we have in store for the next great Big Tell!

Didn’t have a chance to attend The Big Tell Showcase? Visit to view all of the winning films and to learn more about our filmmakers! And make sure to view even more great photos from The Big Tell Showcase on CVCF’s Facebook page! Images from the red carpet photo op have been added. Be sure to tag yourselves!