Beautiful Minds: Dempsey Rice

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The Listening Project: Brooklyn began a few years ago when one woman decided to venture into a senior center, sit down and just listen. She learned very quickly that many retirees have lived very intriguing and exciting lives, and have stories that are rarely told because no one has taken the time to listen.  Dempsey Rice saw the beauty and value in these hidden tales and decided to set them free. This is how The Listening Project was born.

Dempsey is a graduate of Syracuse University with BA’s in Photojournalism and Anthropology and has a Masters in Visual Anthropology from the University of Manchester in England. Her first documentary film, Daughter of Suicide, premiered on HBO in 1999. Her second documentary, Forget Me Nots, focused on the act of remembering, and how intrinsic remembering is in everyday life. Through her work creating the documentary, Dempsey recognized the incredible power that the act of reminiscence and storytelling had on both storytellers as well as listeners. After realizing the importance of sharing one’s story, Dempsey took the idea and made it into something concrete.

The Listening Project: Brooklyn is comprised of three different segments: Listening, Reflection, and Presentation. During the Listening segment, Dempsey spent time at The Council Center of Senior Citizens in Midwood, Brooklyn, a neighborhood that is historically Jewish and Eastern European. She interviewed members of The Center and videotaped thoseinterviews.  They shared stories of past adventures, tragedies, joys and obstacles.  The light and joy that appears in the eyes of these men and women as they relay the greatest moments of their lives is the “best part” of listening for Dempsey. During the second phase of the project, Reflection,  Dempsey watched the footage from each conversation and compiled and edited the footage into over 100 two-to-five minute video segments. The third and final phase of the project, Presentation, took the form of a huge screening and party at the Center where segments from each participant’s interviews were shared.  In addition, Dempsey published all of the segments on the project’s web site:  www.listeningprojectbrooklyn.com

This innovative program allows older adults to express themselves through their own histories and gives them an outlet that many people in older communities do not have. Many people take for granted the power of listening and the positive effect it has on the people around them. Dempsey has given these communities the wonderful gift of story. To learn more about The Listening Project: Brooklyn, visit the project’s website at www.listeningprojectbrooklyn.com and to see more about Dempsey Rice, stop by her website at www.dempseyrice.com.

Written by Isaac Marks

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