Wearing his usual dark green “burglar” beanie as he likes to call it, I met Stephen O’Regan, creator of “People of Lisbon”, in a café downtown where we talked about his project between a few bites of banana bread and coffee. The filmmaker - even though he doesn’t know if he considers himself to be a filmmaker because he “doesn’t really know what that means” - makes videos each week, about a resident of the capital whether it’s a journalist turned laundromat owner, a tuktuk driver or a fado artist/restaurant owner. He has been living in Lisbon since July of last year, after living in New York for eight years.
“The pandemic started happening and I found myself alone in this apartment and I told myself, should I stay here for the end of the world or go home to be closer to my family? So I decided to go back to Dublin”. After staying in his hometown a couple of months, trying to figure out what to do while “the world seemed like it was falling apart”, he finally decided to go to Lisbon where he had already been before.
“Just a couple of weeks after I arrived in Lisbon, I thought I should start doing a project”, Stephen tells me while stirring the sugar in his coffee. “I wasn’t really doing anything and then the title just popped into my mind: People of Lisbon”. A simple idea, and “very self-explanatory”. At a very difficult time for the country, in regard to the Covid-19 pandemic, the goal of the project was to bring some joy to the city by “representing the people in a positive way” he tells me.
Stephen O’Regan works alongside Rita Ansone, a Latvian photographer he met here in Lisbon. “She moved here a few months beforehand, and I had only been here for two or three weeks. She posted on a Facebook group that she was looking for somebody to assist during a photoshoot she was doing, so I met her as her assistant” and little did they know they would end up working on this project together for nine months.
“It’s sort of a simple project. I thought I could maybe try and make a little video about the different persons living in Lisbon each week. I mean there’s interesting people in all cities. So I said [to Rita], why don’t you come along and take photographs of all the people we meet, and I’ll make the videos”. The duo then joined Facebook groups in order to put the word out that they were looking for interesting people and some started contacting them to be featured in the next episode.
“It’s quite tricky to find people from Lisbon, in Lisbon”
Stephen and Rita have just aired their 29th episode of the “micro documentaries”. But the Irish filmmaker has a little preference for episode 2, where he meets Telmo Rodrigues who sells bolinhas de berlim (a Portuguese cake filled with cream) on Praia do Rei. “It has a kind of resonance. He was a wild character, like really mad. We hung out with him for hours. [He’s] the type of character you’ve always dreamed of having, but don’t get that regularly I’ve learned”, Stephen says. Ever since, the 38-year-old and his partner Rita have continued releasing these short videos on Facebook and YouTube each week, saying “it’s been great because it’s allowed us to meet all different types of characters from all over the city and dip into these little funny subcultures”.
People will tell you that Lisbon is a very cosmopolitan city, and you can see that by looking at the duo’s work, which often features foreigners. “It’s sometimes quite tricky to meet somebody from Lisbon, in Lisbon”, Stephen admits. The two artists posted on their Facebook one day asking their followers “what type of people would you like to see on People of Lisbon? And a lot of people wrote back and said, people from Lisbon”, he laughs. They want to discover “real Lisbon”, or at least meet more people who live here.
The team capture the essence of the city since only a few months into their project, TAP Airlines contacted them. “When you make the videos, you have to think where else could [they] be featured, I actually always felt that airplanes could be the perfect place. I think it’s more suited for people that are visiting Portugal, as a way to discover Lisbon, the faces and voices of the people living here”. Unfortunately, not many people are on airplanes right now, but Stephen is still excited about the partnership: “I like the idea that they’re accessible and interesting to anybody”.
People of Lisbon
If you ever get the chance to speak with the creator of People of Lisbon, you can tell the man is overflowing with creativity. Stephen tells me “at the moment it’s a slow build but we want to better our brand and build a website. I have this idea of making iconic t-shirts with faces of the People of Lisbon on the t-shirts or instead of having those endless yellow tram postcards in souvenir shops we could have Rita’s photography. It would be cool to have events in the future where people in Lisbon can just get together and we can bring interesting networks of people”.
This project shows foreigners just as much as locals, the great diversity in characters that hide in the streets of the city. And bringing a bit of positivity into the community can never hurt, or as Stephen O’Regan puts it: “if you just stick with something, then stuff happens. Sometimes it’s difficult and you ask yourself why am I doing this? But positive things happen, and it gives you confidence. It’s not rocket science”, he says laughing, “it’s pretty simple”.