Delaney Colaio was 3-years-old when she lost her father and two uncles in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. But the tragedy that changed her world -- and millions of people around the world -- hasn't caused her to lose hope. This year, the now 18-year-old college freshman began writing and directing We Go Higher, a documentary about -- and made by -- children who lost parents on September 11.
So far, Colaio and collaborators (through production company Women Rising) have interviewed nearly 70 children of the over 3,000 kids whose parents were killed in the attacks. After a summer filming period, the production has now launched an IndieGoGo campaign to raise funds to complete the final phase of production with the film expected to premiere in 2018.
VICE Impact spoke to Colaio about her experience on the film and changing the narrative of 9/11 from tragedy to a sense of hope.
VICE Impact: Could you tell me a little bit about the genesis of this project when you testified at Guantanamo Bay?
Delaney Colaio: My family got a call asking to see if we would provide a victim's statement against five men being held at Guantanamo Bay as 9/11 co-conspirators for the death penalty. That was in January, and I sat with that and it didn't feel right. I don't want to be part of killing anybody regardless of what they've done, and I know the effects of what they've done. I just don't believe in continuing the cycle of violence, so I said no.
How did you get involved with Women Rising to help tell your story?
I did an interview for another film with Sara [Hirsh Bordo, the producer of We Go Higher and founder of Women Rising] , and right off the bat I knew I was inspired by her and all the projects that she'd done. I love the fact that she helps put a positive context to stories surrounding difficult social issues.
I was home for two months after a concussion playing soccer with nothing to do but think. I ended up sending her an email at like 2am saying I had an idea for a film, and how I really felt I can make a difference in the world. I wanted to get to know these kids, I wanted to know if they would do the same thing I would do if I were to go to Guantanamo, or how they feel about everything. She actually responded and said, "I love this," and We Go Higher was born.
Why make a movie?
I genuinely think film or video is the way to get to our generation. When I did that other film with Sara it felt so good that I could take something that negatively impacted me and turn it around to bring it towards something that's bigger and greater than myself.
I wanted to give that opportunity to other 9/11 kids too. I felt we didn't have that. Everybody's been telling our stories, but why couldn't we create something ourselves? Our story is out there, but it was very editorialized. My idea was for it to be as authentic as possible from the source.
What will the format of the film be like?
The film primarily shows me going on this journey to meet these kids where they are and interview them. We'll only feature ten kids within the film, but we also want to make sure to get anybody on camera who wants to tell their story as short films beyond the feature. We're still trying to figure out a home for those shorts to live.
What's it been like having kids open up about this experience, some of whom like yourself who must have been so young and have been defined by it their whole lives?
The fact that I know where they've been and just talking to somebody who has gone through what you have gone through is completely different than talking to someone else. But everybody's specific story is different, and that's also something we want to highlight.
The biggest thing we want to change about people's perspectives is that this actually doesn't define us.
For me it's been an emotional roller coaster. I've grown so much from just doing this the last six months. Talking to others has taught me things about it I never thought about. I thought I was fine and that I'd give them some hope since I've gone through this. But I was super naive about it. I went into these conversations and it became clear that I was learning so much from them, and it made me realize I didn't start to truly grieve until I started work on the film. My entire life I'd just put it off to the side and told everyone I was okay.
What's the process been like finding people to participate?
Our partnership with Tuesday's Children [a response and recovery organization who cares for communities impacted by loss, which was formed in the aftermath of 9/11] was essential because people immediately felt comfortable speaking up. Projects like this spread throughout the 9/11 community because everyone seems to know each other through this unfortunate circumstance.
Do you see this film as a resource, a historical artifact, or something else?
It's coming from a community that suffered through the same tragedy, but we want it to be a tool to be able to help people struggling with loss in general. I want the film to convey that people can define their own life in the way they want to, not by something that did it to them.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity