‘We Go Higher’ Director on the Upcoming Film About Kids Who Lost Family On 9/11

Delaney Colaio shares her experience and what she hopes the documentary will achieve.

Delaney Colaio was one of more than 3,000 children who lost loved ones on 9/11. But when her family was invited to Guantanamo Bay to speak against the terrorists accused of masterminding the attacks, she didn’t have condemnation in her heart. Instead, she was prompted to reach out to other kids who lost family members and learn their stories, believing that their shared experiences could inspire hope and break the stigma associated with being a child of tragedy.

Her upcoming documentary We Go Higher is their way of telling their story on their own terms. The film will follow the 18-year-old Colaio as she connects with others who lost parents and relatives that day. She is on a mission to rally every kid who wants to be included, and by the sound of it, the response so far has been overwhelmingly positive.

Colaio will direct the film along with collaborators Michael Campo and Sara Hirsh Bordo. Women Rising, the company behind A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story will produce. There is also a crowdfunding campaign currently underway to raise money to cover post-production costs and allow more subjects to be filmed.

Recently, we had the chance to interview Colaio and discuss the film.

How did the project came about?

I had wanted to do something related to 9/11 for many years, as a reflection of how I felt after dealing with my own grief and my journey towards hope. What truly sparked this project was a request that my family received for us to give a victim’s statement at Guantanamo Bay against the five accused in the attacks. My heart led me away from that and centered me back to a place of resolve and purpose, focused on hope and recovery more than hatred. Plus, giving a statement like that would have carried so much responsibility, and I was not prepared to represent an entire group of us when we are all individuals with different stories and perspectives.

That is what jump-started this project. I decided to go find other surviving 9/11 kids and hear their stories. Did they feel the same as I did? How had they dealt with their own grief? Who have they become? Were they hopeful too? With these and so many more questions, I knew I needed answers directly from the kids themselves. I wanted to tell our story, our way, and not necessarily what was assumed of us. And so I began my journey and that turned into We Go Higher.

How did you go about reaching out to other kids?

I knew this would be a huge undertaking and that I could not do it alone. I thought that the best way to bring together all of our stories would be as a film, a documentary. I reached out to my friend Sara Hirsh Bordo, knowing she has filmed several award-winning documentaries and would be able to partner with me in making this dream a reality. What I found in Sara was a true partner and collaborator, and she is helping me direct We Go Higher.

Reaching out to other kids wasn’t easy. I knew a few of them, but we knew we would need extra help to be able to go out to everyone. We reached out to Tuesday’s Children, an incredible group that was founded shortly after 9/11 as a response and recovery organization, that has always been very present in my life for the past several years. Partnering with them gave a whole new dimension to the film and really helped us in rallying the support and involvement of everyone that was interested in being a part of the project.

What is the biggest thing you learned while making this?

We Go Higher has been such a positive and powerful movement so far. It’s been a journey for me, literally and figuratively, in retracing my steps in life up to this moment and those of the other kids. One of the most valuable lessons I have learned is that everyone grieves differently. It is a unique process that fits no specific mold, shape, or color. What has truly been amazing for me to see is that so many of us 9/11 kids are far along on our path towards hope. That is what is so beautiful and inspiring to see, the resilience, determination, and grace of these kids.

I have found that for me, and so many others, all roads lead to hope. We all have our paths to walk and our own processes, but what we all share is a unique voice that has been waiting to be heard for a very long time. Together we are uniting our voices and telling our stories our way for the first time, to reshape a cultural narrative and maybe even rewrite history.

In addition to the feature, you’ll also be filming a series of shorts. Will this be an ongoing process as long as people are willing to share their stories?

We Go Higher started as a film and is becoming so much more. It is an amazing movement. We started with 10 kids being a part of the filming and now have over 50 (and counting) that have bravely come forward wanting to share their voice. Sara and I made a promise that since this was so much bigger than us, we would not turn away anyone who wanted to be a part of the film, and we mean it.

We actually just launched an Indiegogo campaign, to help us finish the filming portion of We Go Higher and to be able to include any 9/11 kid who wishes to be a part of it. This is our story and we will tell it together.

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In addition to Nonfics, you can find Kieran over at Film School Rejects, Diabolique Magazine and Arrow Video. When he isn't watching movies or writing about them, he's hanging out with his dog.