Through her participation in Leadership Visalia, Shelley Ellis learned about the devastating impact that human trafficking has on our community. Every day, hundreds of victims, even as young as 12, are forced into sex slavery right here in the Central Valley. The region is located in the middle of three significant human trafficking hubs: San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas, which puts our most vulnerable populations at risk.

Shelly wanted to do something to raise awareness about the effects that human trafficking, and sex trafficking in particular, has in this community. She partnered with filmmaker Zachary Green to create a film for The Big Tell to educate and inform people about the dangers of human trafficking, and the work of local law enforcement to combat it.

Filmmaker Zach Green conducting interviews.

Their film,” Preying on Innocents,” tells the story of the ongoing efforts of Operation: Babyface, a 2014 undercover detail by the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department to aggressively identify human trafficking rings and bring child sex traffickers to justice.

Zach Green was born and raised in Visalia and although he had been interested in taking photos, documenting his travels, and telling stories since early in high school, it wasn’t until age 24 that he quit his full-time job in wildlife biology in San Luis Obispo to explore a creative career. For three years, he took on seasonal jobs, passion projects, and volunteer internships before launching Zach Green Films, a company focused on telling authentic documentary-style stories.

As his film career evolves, Zach looks to other filmmakers for inspiration including Wes Anderson to study the way he builds a story, and his emphasis on aesthetics – especially through color, particular angles, and framing. The advent of YouTube and some of the more creative channels on that platform such as Vice, Casey Neistat, and Peter McKinnon provide additional inspiration for Zach for the way the simple, short films that hold a viewer’s attention.

For Zach, “Preying on Innocents” is an important story to tell because the subject matter is real, it’s relevant, and people in our communities need to know about the dangers to their loved ones. From Stockton to Fresno to Bakersfield, predators are lurking, hoping to entrap young, vulnerable children and young adults into a life of fear and danger.

With this film, Zach and Shelley hope that parents, children, and citizens will learn to be vigilant to make our community safer. Zach says, “I hope [the audience] will leave a little bit scared. I hope they will think twice about allowing their kids free reign on cell phones, tablets, and computers. Ultimately, I hope they will see hope for a better future and will start to make small decisions that help us to get there.”

Check out “Preying on Innocents” at The Big Tell Showcase on Friday, October 19 at 7 pm at the Tower Theatre in Fresno. Follow the making of the film on Instagram here.

The Big Tell, presented by Bank of America, is a regional filmmaking initiative for ten Central Valley filmmakers creating 5-minute mini-documentaries about the incredible people, places, and events in the Central Valley.

All ten films will be screened at The Big Tell Showcase which starts with a walk on the red carpet from 6:00 – 7:00 pm. For more information and to reserve a seat for this free, all-ages show, visit www.thebigtell.org.