Donald Clarke: Try going outdoors, it might not be too bad

A big screen in a park isn’t everyone’s idea of a night at the movies, but it’ll work

This summer is testing our complicated relationship with “outdoors”. We are almost as conflicted about “outdoors” as we are – or were, anyway – about the similarly uncomfortable business of s-e-x (I’m sure the children can’t spell yet). We are not like the Californians. We are not like the French either. Given a reasonable opportunity, they will, without guilt or trepidation, embrace the possibilities and profit from the experience. But they’re not so pitifully desperate that they’ll snatch at the feeblest chance. I’m still talking about “outdoors”. But maybe I’m also talking about s-e-x.

Next week, the Galway Film Fleadh will, for its 34th festival, be largely divided between online events and outdoor screenings. There will be a few events in the lovely Pálás Cinema, but the key choice for Fleadh regulars is between the sofa and the big screen in Father Burke Park. Activate the al fresco for Andrea Riseborough in the opening film Here Before. Enjoy that same Northern Irish thriller with a sandwich in your living room. Admired animations such as Spirited Away and recent Oscar nominee Wolfwalkers will also play in the park.

There has, over the past few months, been much debate about how well (or badly) Irish people deal with outdoor living. It is wrong to suggest we shun exterior entertainments. Indeed, the temperature need rise only a few degrees above freezing for us to risk a pint in the grey, miserable outdoors. Folk from sunnier, less inhibited climes – forgive us our generalisations for a few hundred words – will take their pleasures when the conditions are genuinely inviting. They don’t force themselves to do s-e-x just because it becomes vaguely feasible. Sorry, we’re mixing those things up again. I mean they will not sit at a pavement cafe in a hurricane just because the winds are not yet furious enough to fling them into passing traffic.

Consider the classic Irish beach holiday of days gone by. It didn’t much matter if the sun had elected to make one of its biannual appearances above the peeling mobile home in the faded Atlantic resort. Even if that celestial body was sulking behind layers of menacing cloud, we would still make our way to the beach, wriggle into bathing suits beneath modestly wrapped bath towels and sit staring towards the impossibly distant United States. Because we could.


They had a better grasp of the outdoors over there. In the early 1980s I travelled with my family to the US for the first time. It was mid-spring and, even by our standards, not exactly baking but nothing was going to get between us and immersion in these “swimming pools” we had heard so much about. Some motels had not even filled the things with water. Others looked at us as if we were demented when we asked directions to the exterior bathing area. We pulled on our trunks. We went in up to our waists. We may not have enjoyed it that much. But we did it because we could.

This is what happens when you are raised at the cooler end of a temperate climate. Floridians or Neapolitans know to spend this tolerably mild afternoon indoors because dozens more properly balmy days will come along before winter sets in. Stuck out at the northwestern corner of Europe, hammered by storms, rendered wan and unglamorous by the milky skies, we will take any chance to grab what might be a rare opportunity to do things outside that we usually do behind closed doors. I’m definitely not talking about s-e-x.

All of this is good news for a Government that, over the last few months, has been arguing for an outside summer. When it comes to outdoor dining, outdoor drinking and outdoor weeing on Dublin's South William Street, the authorities are already pushing at an open door. There is every chance the good people of Ireland will be equally open to film in the fresh air. Obviously there are drawbacks. Wireless headphones may well provide decent sound, but the booming echoes of a cinematic audio system will be missed. Given the time of year, the films will not be screened in anything like darkness. But, as a number of festivals have discovered in this odd year, al fresco movies have a charm that is all their own. I fondly remember, a little over 10 years ago, being introduced to Cannes' Cinema de la Plage at a screening of From Here to Eternity. There is no better way to savour Deborah Kerr's briny entanglement with Burt Lancaster than on a screen literally mounted in the Mediterranean. Last summer, during lockdown in the US, venerable drive-in movie houses delivered most of the revenue reported in the (admittedly pretty feeble) box-office charts. Theatre began outdoors. Cinema can handle a spell beneath the sky.

This is Ireland. Any opportunity to escape the parlour is greedily appreciated.