Nearly 16 years ago the landscape of our nation changed dramatically with the tragic events of 9/11. Our eyes had seemingly been forced open, perhaps for the first time, to the existence and persistence of evil in our world. For it was no longer just in the long ago events we learned about in our history books, but right in front of us and in our time. Almost immediately, our everyday practices and thoughts, in an attempt to feel safe, were redirected. And every year as we mark another anniversary, we’re reminded of this shift, plummeted again into the darkness of heartbreaking and violent images. Through the ashy streets of New York City, a burning field in Pennsylvania and the Pentagon in near ruin, our pain, and perhaps our deepest anger, and frustrations are relived. Delaney Colaio wants to change that narrative though, bringing in a force of light and hope – and she has reinforcements.
To Colaio, 18, Sept. 11 isn’t just a marker of our country’s worst terrorist attack, it’s also the day her father and two uncles lost their lives. And for Colaio, and the thousands of children just like her, there isn’t just one day out of the year where this loss is felt. But instead of carrying any semblance of hatred or anger through every passing day of memoriam, Colaio finds herself searching for and acting on the love and kindness she believes we all possess and she plans on doing that with the documentary, “We Go Higher,” the first ever production by and about the surviving children of 9/11.
“The kids of 9/11 have had their stories told for them for the past 16 years and [with] everything recently — in the past couple years and weeks and even days – that has been happening at a rapid speed, like Orlando, Manchester, London and all these tragic moments impacting families, I just knew that there are all these 9/11 kids that have been thriving on the other side of grief and I felt the world needed to have their stories shared,” explained Colaio. “I didn’t feel like it was necessary; it almost felt like a responsibility to go and comfort the world that is living in such fear right now.”
This all came together in December of 2016 when Colaio, through a mutual friend, was introduced to Sara Bordo, founder and CEO of Women Rising, a production company founded in 2013 with the purpose of “creating content and experiences to empower women and girls” and the two of them began talking about the idea of a documentary where the children of 9/11 told their stories, in their own voices.
“She lost a tremendous amount of her family heart beat that day,” Bordo said. “And so for her to have that want was really profound and from our standpoint, and when we started talking, I think that the piece that really surprised us, and not just surprised, but excited us, was what a natural storyteller she was and really how, to date, had not necessarily been a real participant in the community, as active a participant as some of the other kids that are coming forward, and what I think she started to realize is that she needed them and that she really needed to kind of unite with this community, to not only strengthen herself but also to be a part of her own story.”
By February the two had decided to move forward with their project, with Bordo as producer and Colaio acting as co-writer and co-director with Michael Campo, who was also a writer and producer on “A Brave Heart – The Lizzie Velasquez Story,” Women Rising’s first documentary production. In an interesting turn of events, at about that same time Colaio and her family were approached by special prosecutors asking them to make victim statements against the five detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba who are all alleged conspirators of the 9/11 attacks.
“The side that we would stand on, if we were to participate [and] if we won, would be giving them the death penalty and that also struck a chord in me that just didn’t feel right because it almost felt as if it was just this same cycle of just killing, and I just don’t – I don’t want to be responsible for killing anybody, regardless of what they’ve done,” said Colaio. “Also I didn’t want to speak for all these other kids who lost parents and I didn’t really know that many of them, so it just was like, I wanted to ask questions and that’s really where the film was also coming from too, just getting to know all these other kids.”
With that experience, Colaio felt she had absolute confirmation that she was doing what she was supposed to do and was determined to make sure that no one spoke on behalf of the group, but rather allowed each individual the opportunity to speak for themselves.
“It was really scary for me in the beginning to get started with all this because personally I never really talked about it and asking these kids to talk about it – for them to come in and share it, required a tremendous amount of courage, so I didn’t have any expectations for anyone to come and share with us but after they did I felt so grateful. Obviously, not everyone is going to want to talk about it, [and that’s] completely understandable, and one of the biggest things that we talk about is everybody grieves differently and that’s OK,” said Colaio. “I was nervous that nobody would want to be a part of it but there’s a lot of kids who want to be a part of it, which is amazing.”
Partnering with Tuesday’s Children, a group formed in the days after 9/11 as a “response and recovery organization who cares for communities impacted by loss” Colaio and Bordo were quickly put in contact with other surviving kids of 9/11 for whom to start their interviews with. Not long after though, word started to spread, rather organically, and the two women found themselves no longer needing to search, as kids began reaching out to them. To date, as filming begins this July, they continue to hear from new survivors every day and while the plan is to include 50 plus stories in the film in some way, both Colaio and Bordo are determined to keep the stories going. In some fashion, even after filming and production is complete, the two are committed to continue filming every single “kid” who wants their story told and have it become a part of a series and/or content library of all the different stages and experiences of grief.
“Everyone across the board really sees these children as kind of this master class of teachers,” said Bordo. “Everyone that we have met, and I mean everyone, all of the kids that we’ve met that are going to be a part of this film and interviewed for this film, all carry the same thread of hope and resilience. I think talking about grief and talking about loss is probably the one rite of passage that we as human beings hide from the most. So I think going straight at it with courage and with as much bravery as we can summon, to present a tool and bring forward what can really be a tool for anyone that’s going through loss or recovery. I think it’s just time that we start creating and leaning on tools and assets and media and support that can make us feel better during difficult times rather than hide from it, and I think that’s what we as Women Rising are really trying to do, is help.”
“What we hope this film accomplishes is to help people and comfort people who are struggling with loss, to know that they’re not alone and to hear from people who have walked their walk that they’re about to have, like the kids who just lost people in Manchester or someone who is losing a parent or a grandparent or somebody to cancer – it doesn’t matter what it is – everybody struggles with loss so for them to hear from us, to know that we made it and that we’re okay, and that you can absolutely thrive on the other side of grief if you choose and that they can get through too, that’s mainly the hope of the film,” Colaio said.
A passion project of sorts, Bordo is personally backing the film while she and her production company raise funds, purely through donations and fundraising.
“Fundraising is always the trickiest, but we believe in the film so deeply and so truly and what we’re already seeing … we’re getting notes of thanks and we haven’t started filming,” said Bordo. “And that I think is the biggest gift and reminder that we’re on the right track and that this is such a bigger cause than a film, it’s a bigger cause than a production. It’s really about bringing forward a tool that can help feed the hearts and minds of people around the world that are dealing with trauma everyday and as we’ve all seen in the news, in all forms, in all languages, that these moments of trauma aren’t going away.”
With the hope of a Spring 2018 premiere, Colaio and Bordo believe that now, more than ever, their film is needed. With the recent and growing tension and violence in the world, it is their belief that spreading love, comfort and hope for a better tomorrow can save our sorrows and ultimately push us towards the peace many of us inherently crave.
“Trying to spread love and hope is kind of like a whisper and when you spread hate and violence, it’s like a scream,” Colaio added. “So I just hope that this film will make the voice of hope and forgiveness and all those other things louder.”
If you or anyone you know is a surviving child of 9/11 and want to have your story told, it is not too late. Visit wegohigherfilm.com and learn how you can contribute to this narrative in a way that feels most comfortable to you.