Alumni, Gerontology

Alumni Profile: Jocelyn Vieth, Gerontology

November 08, 2016

Before founding Digital Legacy Productions—a company that uses digital storytelling to capture the unique stories of older adults on film in a way that showcases their insights, histories, family traditions, and memories—Jocelyn Vieth completed SFU Gerontology’s Post Baccalaureate Diploma program in 2012.

Vieth came to the program to further her knowledge of the aging population having worked part-time in a retirement residence while she was completing her undergraduate degree in Sociology and Communications at Wilfrid Laurier University. She says Gerontology’s unique program allowed her to engage in graduate level research and reading while “nurturing her passion for the aging journeys of older adults.”

She recalls that particular courses with faculty members like Dr. Barbara Mitchell or adjunct instructor Dan Levitt (Executive Director at Tabor Village Assisted Living Community) challenged her to think through both the theory and practice of gerontological research; Vieth delved into such topics as the complicated intergenerational dynamics of family and aging, how aging and environmental design are applied to business models, or how students can “think outside the box” and apply entrepreneurial skills to the field in order to meet the needs of the aging population. “The program encouraged me to seek out methods to improve and enhance the social aspects of growing older,” she says, “and I found my niche in focusing on the emotional side of aging, a place in which I could make older adults feel celebrated.”

Vieth attributes the idea of founding Digital Legacy Productions to both the training she received in Gerontology and to strong relationships with her grandparents: “I’m close to my Oma and Opa (both sets of grandparents, actually) and moving away from them to study in Vancouver was difficult. Many people these days find themselves in a dynamic where they’re not geographically close to their elders and while we’re aided by technology and we can connect that way, we’re also very aware that they’re not going to live forever. I found myself searching for ways to cherish these connections.”

The idea for her company crystalized, Vieth recalls, while observing her grandparents interact and tell stories in their kitchen during a visit back home. “I was sitting in my Oma and Opa's kitchen as they prepared dinner, observing the exchange of subtle interactions and listening to their well-versed anecdotes.” Vieth says witnessing these moments made her want to record them, preserving the memory so that she could watch it whenever she missed them. This personal drive to capture the lives of her grandparents on film forms the basis of Vieth’s vision for her company: “to provide a personalized platform for older individuals to encapsulate their memories on film.”

In addition to producing videos for those who want to preserve memories of loved ones on film, Vieth has also captured the stories and memories of older adults for such community projects as The Veterans Project, the City of Vancouver and Trout Lake Community Center’s Big Band Dance for 55+, and legacy videos in The Aging Dialogues: Sharing Wisdom, Preserving Our Legacies. She is also working on a community project to capture the story of ASK Friendship Centre in Vancouver.

Digital Legacy Productions

Speaking about The Veterans Project, which was created for Remembrance Day in 2015, Vieth says the project came to be from an interview she did with a war bride after her husband passed away. She introduced Vieth to the Legion her husband was very involved in, and twelve veterans from the legion participated in the venture. The veterans felt strongly about sharing their stories in a form accessible to younger generations. “Younger generations are often disconnected from veterans and their stories. I wanted to record their stories because it’s important. It’s important to witness and to understand why we remember. I sat down with 12 veterans and recorded interviews with them. During many moments, interviewees seemed to forget a camera was in the room. We edited that footage down and the final project was a 7-minute video that was shown in several schools and picked up by Vancitybuzz. So I think it reached a wide range of age groups. The veterans who were involved really loved the final version and said they felt it accurately showed how they felt about the wars they witnessed or were involved in.”

The Veterans Project was also shown at The Aging Dialogues exhibit at THEMUSEUM in Kitchener, Ontario. The exhibit featured a collection of “Aging Insights” that came from a variety of legacy videos they had previously produced. Vieth says these were some of the best pieces of advice and insight for younger generations they had heard over the past year. In addition to giving a lecture during the exhibition, Vieth contributed four digital legacy videos in which older adults speak about their advice and hopes for future generations. Contrary to the idea that older adults have little in common with younger generations, Vieth says there are more commonalities than differences if you really listen. “For example, I remember in one interview, an interviewee revealed that she was engaged to be married but also loved another person at the time and ended up marrying the other romantic interest, not her original fiancé. So you get a peek at this more complex story in the background of her life and this suggests to me that perhaps the personal trials and emotional experiences of older adults are actually not so different from what younger individuals face today.”

In addition to making legacy videos and maintaining her company’s website, blog, and Instagram account, Vieth recently completed a course on video production at Langara College. When asked what advice she has for students or young professionals looking to find their own niche in a field as diverse and interdisciplinary as Gerontology, Vieth recommends “volunteering both within your field and looking towards other avenues.” “You never know who you’re going to meet or strike up a rapport with,” she adds. Perhaps most importantly, Vieth says “always striving to understand the broader importance of a course or theory and being open to a rich set of experiences is essential."

The Veterans Project