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Lisbon isn’t just tech: Stephen O’ Regan tells us about the heartfelt stories of ‘People of Lisbon’

I have been doing a series of interviews with startups in Lisbon (mainly tech startups) and with people who are making Lisbon the thriving tech scene it is at the moment. But there is more to Lisbon than tech, there are also the stories of many people who have been moving to Lisbon in the last few years in search of various things: a home, companionship, a new beginning, or the warmth of the southern sun. 

The project I am interviewing today, “People of Lisbon,” doesn’t have the budget of the tech startups I have previously interviewed nor do they have a big marketing team behind them.

But, they shed light on an inseparable part of Lisbon’s everyday life: the story of its people, locals, migrants and expats.

 I first encountered “People of Lisbon” on Instagram and I was blown away by the beautiful photographs taken by Rita Ansone of the participants along with the heartfelt stories accompanying those photographs.The emphasis is on video, a main component of the “People of Lisbon” project, with the videos featured on TAP Air Portugal. I reached out to Stephen O’Regan who came up with the idea of the project to find out more about his “People of Lisbon.”

How did the idea of People of Lisbon come up? 

Stephen: I came to Lisbon early on in the onset of the pandemic. (It turns out Portugal was one of the few places you were allowed to go to.) After just a week or so here I felt I needed to start doing something. I asked myself: “What might be positive for people during a hard time and could allow me to exercise some documentary ambitions?” The title “People of Lisbon” just popped into my head. I met a cool photographer here (Rita Ansone), I asked her to get involved, and a week later we were rolling. It was a case of, “Don’t think. Just do.”

What would you say are the biggest challenges of the project? 

The biggest challenge is always trying to get the project funded. It has been extremely difficult, and at various points I’ve gotten close to throwing the towel in. That’s not the sexy thing to say, but it’s the truth. Having said that, from my previous life experience, there is something that can be said for sticking to it. Other challenges that spring to mind are when you realize that you forgot to turn on the microphone, or when your hard drive just stops working. Technology is regularly a let down these days I find. It’s rare that we have a difficult guest.

How do you come to select the people of the “People of Lisbon?

You would not believe how spontaneous this process is and how often it is last minute. I wish I could say there was a scientific approach. Often it’s from rambling around social media, sometimes people contact us, sometimes people are suggested. But whoever we find, we usually ask: “can you do it tomorrow?”

Do you receive funding? How do you manage to keep the project going? 

We have been doing “People of Lisbon” now for over two years, and for the most of it, we have not received funding. So, you could say it has been a labor of love. We had hoped that avenues to funding might present themselves, but that didn’t happen. The reality is that there has been a lot of banging on doors, and I am happy to say we have a sponsor at the moment (thank you Moviinn) and a small but dedicated Patreon following. But the struggle goes on…

What are your plans for People of Lisbon in the future? 

Ambitions are easy. And we have a few. We would love to do a coffee table book with Rita’s photographs of the series. We imagine it in every hotel room and book shop in Lisbon. We then see “People of Lisbon” as being an important brand for Portugal/ Lisbon. For people that are interested in learning about Lisbon in a unique way – a Lonely Planet for its day. Then we have the idea of doing a “People of Lisbon” wine. And then we have the idea of doing a “People of Lisbon” wine bar. It’s true. But while ambitions and ideas are easy, execution is more tricky. 

You can see all the “People of Lisbon” videos here.

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Read more about Lisbon here in Dispatches’ archives.

Read more from Sarah here.

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Sarah Nagaty has a PhD in cultural studies, She’s lived in Portugal for six years.

As a student of cultural studies, Sarah is drawn to what connects people from different backgrounds to new cultures and places, how they relate to their new surroundings and what kind of activities they could engage with in their new hometowns.

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