Susan Bordson: Telling Children’s HeartLink’s Stories Through Film

by Faith Adams, Communications Director

Filmmaker Susan Bordson has shared her time and talents with Children’s HeartLink for more than a decade. In a recent interview she talked about her experiences working with us, and her approach to telling stories through film.

Why did you first decide to volunteer at Children’s HeartLink, and what keeps you coming back after all of these years?
I started volunteering in 2004. My youngest child was born in 1996 with complex congenital heart disease, and I’d been a full-time parent. My son had received excellent care at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota and was doing miraculously well. I was looking for opportunities where I could “dust off” career skills and do work with real impact. When I discovered Children’s HeartLink, it was a perfect alignment for me. The quality of the staff members, who have become my longtime friends, and the value of the work keep me committed to Children’s HeartLink.

Do you have any stories to share about your trip last May to Chengdu, China, to film footage?
I have one especially poignant story from that trip. We were filming a family in a hallway outside the operating room as they waited to hand their young son to a member of the medical team. Only one parent was allowed to carry the child through the doors to the operating room. I found myself standing with the mother, who was standing alone when her husband left with their son. I  immediately flashed back to when we’d handed our child over to his surgical team many years ago. The mother spoke no English, so I flagged down a random person, who also spoke little English, and asked him to explain that I was also a “heart mom.” Once I saw recognition on her face, I took a chance and hugged her. She grabbed me tightly, shaking and crying, finally letting go of her stoicism. We stood there for a long time. This moment illustrates to me a message we often include in our films: A parent’s love and concern for their children is universal.

Filming Saving Children in China: Team to Team Cardiac Training

Your films about Children’s HeartLink have received two awards this year. What is it about your films that make such a powerful connection to the viewer?
Children’s HeartLink’s stories are truly remarkable, so it is not difficult to produce compelling films. However, the wonderful skills of partner cinematographers Ben Niles and Nate Maydole are key, because quality footage is a requirement for a high-quality film. Both of these cinematographers have captured amazing, intimate visuals while working in unpredictable and challenging environments. Their work, combined with my experience with the organization, has allowed us to create some film productions of which I’m very proud and honored to be part of.

How did your professional background prepare you for the film projects you do for Children’s HeartLink?
I’m grateful for my varied career positions in broadcasting, meetings and events, and video production. I gained useful skills from each industry: I learned how to write succinct copy for TV spots, how to holistically design an audience experience for live events, and how to produce documentary-style short films through the voices of authentic characters. To help nonprofits and businesses share their stories in meaningful ways, I rely on all of these skills.

Why do you believe that short films and videos are important to Children’s HeartLink and its efforts to share the stories of its work with friends and supporters?
A nonprofit organization’s ability to share the stories of its impact is critical for gaining new supporters and new funding. In today’s “noisy” world, this is more difficult than ever. Good storytelling makes messages engaging and more compelling. The most efficient way to move hearts and minds simultaneously is through strategic filmmaking. If done well, it can give audiences an intimate, “inside peek” at an organization’s work like no other medium can. The absolute key for success, however, is authenticity.  I’m deeply grateful to Children’s HeartLink for the opportunities I’ve had to witness and share the work of its medical teams around the world.