We Go Higher: Documentary about Life Experiences of 9/11 Kids Will Not Be Seen–What Went Wrong?

We Go Higher, a documentary about the life experiences of 9/11  Kids, people with parents murdered in the 2001 terrorist attacks.

The directors, the award-winning Sara Hirsh Bordo and her  collaborator Michael Campo, resume questions about self-harm, Colaio’s relationship with his mother, and his father, killed when Colaio was a toddler.

During the two-hour-session, filmed in August 2017, and the session the night before, Bordo and Campo also grill Colaio on why he doesn’t want to see the terrorists face the death penalty.

Colaio says he’s had enough, that he’s already shared things he’s never shared with anyone.

Colaio moans, “I don’t want to have this conversation.” “But I do,” Campo replies. “And we’re on my time now.” “I’m very drained. I don’t want to have this conversation.”

After filming a scene with Brian Cosgrove, whose father also died in the Twin Towers, Colaio has panic attack. The camera keeps rolling, catching his body slumped on a sidewalk with Bordo, holding his prone head on her lap. Colaio was filmed on emergency room gurney, blinking eyes darting back and forth as a nurse examined him.

In a phone interview more than 6 years later, Colaio hates seeing himself that way, so vulnerable and hurt, and that he did not know he was being filmed by Bordo in the hospital until he saw a cut of the documentary. “I felt like I was going to die,” he says. “I had no idea what was going on.”

We Go Higher received attention from the moment preproduction was announced in 2017. It would, the marketing promised, be produced by Bordo and co-directed by Colaio.

A crowdfunding campaign for We Go Higher in 2017 has raised $62,805 from 299 backers, many of them family and friends of 9/11 victims. COURTESY

It is useful to know that from childhood through most of the filming, Colaio used female pronouns, and that his last name is legally Colaio-Coppola, but he goes by Colaio. Since 2020, Colaio has identified as male. This article refers to Colaio as he and him, other than when quoting a source.

Colaio’s apparent resilience in initiating the project, People gushed in 2017, “The terrorists’ attempt to destroy her family’s spirit only made her stronger.” The New York Times noted the documentary was expected to premiere in 2018 and that filmmakers would interview “every single 9/11 kid that wants to be filmed.” An interview archive would be created for historians.

With such promise, more than $900,000 was raised from 9/11 families and other supporters, according to an audit prepared in 2020.

Seven years after it was announced, no film has been released.

Filmmaker Sara Hirsch Bordo at event for 2015 documentary A Brave Heart. BEN GABBE/GETTY IMAGES

This isn’t another story about a production gone bad, money misspent.

Besides being tragically untold tale about the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil, the ill-fated We Go Higher raises questions about the documentary industry itself. 

There was lawsuit alleging Bordo and companies misappropriated production funds, and angry former producers mystified by what they say was Bordo’s luxury travel and purchases.

There were disturbing accounts of how the traumatized were treated in front of and behind the camera.

There have been questions not only about journalistic standards but also about how the people in the films are handled. If Hollywood has regularized the hiring of intimacy coordinators to protect paid actors in scripted productions, some are asking if it’s time to provide psychological support and safety measures for people exposing their real-life traumas–who are rarely paid for their participation. 
Margie Ratliff, who was 20 in 2002 when she was filmed for The Staircase, a wrenching documentary about her father’s trial on charges of killing his wife, and who now wishes she could be edited out, is starting the nonprofit Documentary Participants Empowerment Alliance.
“We want to make sure to have lawyers and mental health facilitators available when participants need on-site help,” says Ratliff — who was paid nothing for The Staircase or the 2022 HBO scripted spinoff of the same name —  “or help with a contract to know what they’re signing and also resources for filmmakers.”

What makes We Go Higher an illustrative case is the 2020 audit.

It allows a rare look at what can happen inside even well-intentioned documentaries. While some films come from news organizations with known standards, such as CNN and The New York Times, others are homespun. In this case, business and personal boundaries appear to have become hopelessly jumbled. In a phone interview with Bordo that was conducted with both her publicist and her lawyer on the line, the filmmaker says there was nothing substandard with We Go Higher’s financial management or mental health sensitivities. She referred to it as “a creative miscarriage,” and notes she nevertheless finished a version of the film as promised. She acknowledges that much had not gone to plan, blaming Colaio for a sudden change of heart about the direction of the project that left her “stunned” and led to its failure to sell. She says the production took a brutal toll on her well-being.

Campo, the co-director who along with Bordo was asking Colaio questions prior to the panic attack, did not reply to requests for comment. His LinkedIn page places him in Tampa, Florida, and describes his current job as digital content production specialist at AAA-The Auto Club Group.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter