Sara Hirsh Bordo Captures the Stories of ‘9/11 Kids’
The filmmaker created a documentary about people who lost a parent in 9/11 and consulted on Wonder Woman 1984.
Sara Hirsh Bordo ’98 is passionate about championing women. After climbing through the ranks in the advertising and entertainment industries in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, she founded Women Rising, a mentoring organization that evolved into a production company dedicated to empowering females through content and experiences.
While directing and producing TEDxAustinWomen in 2013, she befriended activist Lizzie Velasquez. Hirsh Bordo made her directorial debut with A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story, a South by Southwest award-winning documentary detailing Velasquez’s journey from cyberbullying victim to anti-bullying activist.
While working on ProtectHer — a sexual assault prevention film series aimed at protecting collegians — Hirsh Bordo interviewed a girl who lost her father in the 9/11 attacks. She asked Hirsh Bordo to work with her on a documentary project to bring healing to other “9/11 kids.”
Four years in the making, We Go Higher is a film about healing and hope, as told by more than 70 people who lost a parent in 9/11, “which to our knowledge was the most 9/11 kids ever interviewed,” Hirsh Bordo said.
Distribution was delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic and is yet to be determined.
“The resilience, hope and commitment to service that so many of the 9/11 kids carry with them in the way that they live their lives left a very powerful and humbling mark on me — not just as a storyteller, but as a daughter and as a woman,” Hirsh Bordo said. “I think they really are this community of unknown American heroes.”
Hirsh Bordo’s long list of live experience production work includes the 2017 Texas Women’s March and the 2018 United State of Women Summit, featuring former first lady Michelle Obama.
“That event was an incredible culmination of being able to show women around the world some of my heroes, including Mrs. Obama and now-Vice President Kamala Harris. When I was directing it live, there were times when I was literally brought to tears because of how lucky I felt and how proud I was of the work that we were doing.”
She also consulted on the marketing for Warner Bros.’ Wonder Woman 1984, executive produced an award-winning animated documentary short on women’s health called Tightly Wound, and wrote and directed a national campaign for Tri Delta that announced the sorority’s new inclusivity policy. (Hirsh Bordo was a Tri Delt at TCU.)
“As a storyteller, I’ve been building stages for stories of women and girls that have given me courage to pursue and build upon some of my own experiences.”
Sara Hirsh Bordo
In 2020, when the pandemic shut down the entertainment industry, Hirsh Bordo had to lay off her team and find different avenues for creativity. She recently completed her first screenplay, a narrative based on personal experiences over the last few years, and is rebuilding Women Rising with a focus on innovating at the intersection of female empowerment and female wellness.
“As a storyteller, I’ve been building stages for stories of women and girls that have given me courage to pursue and build upon some of my own experiences,” said Hirsh Bordo, who is battling two autoimmune diseases. “There are so many areas of empowerment I’ve been able to reflect upon not just when I’ve felt strong, but when I’m recovering.”
Earlier this year, Hirsh Bordo began raising funds for an evolved Women Rising — the first time she has sought outside investment for her company.
“I think there is a lens from my own personal experiences that I’m able to build upon. Women Rising 2.0 will likely be growing from something that is experiential. I’m specifically passionate about regenerating women’s health from a place of personal empowerment.”
While piecing together stories of unsung heroes and empowerment, Hirsh Bordo has discovered impactful life lessons.
Working with the 9/11 kids, I learned the power of community. As I finished the film around the beginning of Covid and watched our world become one collective consciousness of grief and loss, it was extremely comforting knowing what another community of grief and loss had gone on to become — not only individually, but as a collective. It was a lesson of reassurance and one I’m honored to talk about whenever given the chance.
“Life and trauma have a way of instilling a sort of wisdom by brokenness.”
Sara Hirsh Bordo
Some of the wisest people I’ve ever met are the youngest people. Life and trauma have a way of instilling a sort of wisdom by brokenness. There is so much that we can learn from our youngest friends and community members.
When we are not authentic to what we do and how we make our decisions, we feel it, and we also can perceive it in other people and other businesses. The preciousness of life — whether that’s me spending time with Lizzie for two years or working with 9/11 kids — is that being authentic and knowing what that looks and feels like is probably the biggest superpower that any of us can step into on our own.
The way stories are brought to market is changing and there are a lot of unknowns. As storytellers, we’re in an innovative time and need to have the agility and flexibility to take ideas intended for one medium or platform and repurpose them for the current marketplace.
Our 2018 United State of Women Summit brought together my most diverse crew yet. It was proof of concept of women uniting behind the scenes filming such a big stage, working alongside our male allies equally. It was also proof that having a 50 percent female crew and pay parity can and should succeed as a model.
When we have the opportunity to show the tapestry of faces, backgrounds and personalities, it makes a campaign, message or film better. Viewers connect with a face, voice or message. For the Tri Delta campaign, I didn’t make it easy on myself. I wanted to show as many faces as I could, which meant I needed to be shooting lots and lots of faces in a short amount of time.
Inclusivity is not just an idea — it has to be an intention, and those are very different things. The power of inclusivity has to be felt in the highest ranks in order to come across authentically. And when it’s authentic, it is destined to be more successful because it wasn’t just a checked box — it was a mindful mission.
When working toward female empowerment, make sure male allies are always at the table. The outcome is always better when we have women and men working together for issues facing women and girls because these issues also affect our dads, brothers, sons and colleagues.
As a woman in business, I’m learning that it is OK for the business and your skills to have seasonality to them. We have to allow life room to take our insights and innovations to new places, and sometimes that means our skills evolve over time. That’s something we need to work harder to embrace. At the time it can feel frightening, but that’s also what makes it exciting.
Life has presented me with certain invitations to get behind ideas and missions that are bigger than me. I’ve worked really hard to listen to those.
I know I’m not alone in my business being affected by Covid. After having to scale back my team, it was really hard not to feel like I had let them down. Self-forgiveness when things are out of our control isn’t optional, but it is something you have to reach in your own time.
As women, we tend to be maternal and take these losses and changes really personally. One of the things I’ve worked on is the power of detachment and objectivity as it relates to what we create for the world — even though our natural instinct is to treat it like a child we’ve birthed.
A lot of things got very still and very quiet in 2020. Even though the stillness and the quiet can be uncomfortable, it can also be the frequency where we hear the clearest about what’s next. I’m grateful for where I’m headed, but that doesn’t mean it was easy arriving here.
Edited for clarity and length.