Irish Lives: Peter O’Brien, Dubin outdoor events organiser

How to have a lark in the park that’s not a washout

Peter O’Brien, who has been involved in organising events in green spaces in Dublin, is relying on technology and spontaneity to pull off his latest series of outdoor film events in Dublin,  the Instant Open-Air Cinema Festival, which kicked off in Fitzwilliam Square last month. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Peter O’Brien, who has been involved in organising events in green spaces in Dublin, is relying on technology and spontaneity to pull off his latest series of outdoor film events in Dublin, the Instant Open-Air Cinema Festival, which kicked off in Fitzwilliam Square last month. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Sat, May 4, 2013, 01:00

Organising outdoor events in Ireland requires a few things: steady nerves, half an inclination to buy a Child of Prague statue to ensure the rain stays away, a capacity to deal with people who say, “I hope you get the weather for it.”

Peter O’Brien, who organises events in green spaces in Dublin, is relying on technology and spontaneity to pull off his latest series of outdoor film events in Dublin: the Instant Open Air Cinema Festival, which kicked off in Fitzwilliam Square last month. Four films are being screened over three weeks.

O’Brien uses weather apps and forecasting sites to pick the best night to hold an outdoor movie. He then gives his potential audience 36 hours’ notice via Facebook and Twitter. It’s just long enough for them to cancel existing plans, grab a picnic blanket and head for the park. The last-minute scheduling adds to the buzz and admission is only €5.

Hundreds of people gathered for the first movie, sitting on blankets and plastic bags, watching Some Like It Hot projected on a big screen as the sun went down. A warm day gave way to a cool night, but the rain stayed away.

“Irish weather is so unpredictable that planning outdoor events is kind of a nightmare,” O’Brien says. “It’s a nightmare I was living with for ages, doing outdoor events from cinema to talks in parks and music events.”

The solution was to forget about making concrete plans, but to have the set-up ready to go. “We’ve got loads of lovely public space but we don’t have the weather to plan it months in advance. But we have the technology to let everyone know within hours that there are things on.”

In public spaces controlled by Dublin City Council, O’Brien says officials are working off a “pre-internet” concept of planning.To make his outdoor film events happen, O’Brien is avoiding dealing with the council, an organisation he feels is trying to change, but by its very nature is not given to spontaneity.

Instead, he deals with the privately owned Fitzwilliam Square. “Dublin City Council is a big heavy machine that’s slow to move. They’d like to move better but they’re set up badly. You’ve got to talk to so many different people in different areas to get something done . . . it’s a slow process and people get put off by it . . . It’s all about the number of people involved to make decisions. I deal with one guy in Fitzwilliam Square.”

His is a simple set-up. A cinema screen, a PA, a couple of people at the entrance taking the money, some food stalls, a handful of Portaloos, volunteers handing out rubbish bags, rows of lights creating makeshift walkways, and a microphone for O’Brien to introduce the film. The audience can bring their own alcohol, with the organisers trusting filmgoers to drink responsibly and take their rubbish away with them.

The event goes up as an ad and event on Facebook, and a competition is run to win tickets. It’s shared and, all of a sudden, large numbers of people click ‘attending’. Hey presto: instant audience, instant event, instant happening.

Ultimately, there’s a bigger philosophy at play too.

By taking a detour from the traditional methods of organising events and by placing trust in people attending to behave accordingly – removing the fear of risk felt by organisers due to Ireland being what O’Brien calls “a nation of sue-ers” – the instant gatherings are providing a new example of what an event can be and offering a new model of how to create it.

“It’s to bring people together, it’s community really,” O’Brien says. “Using public spaces to gather, have experiences together... Society is crap and I’m just interested in making it better with people who are interested in making it better . . .

“If it’s good enough, people will tell each other, and if it’s a good idea it’ll be shared.”