Robert O’Brien talks Dublin’s First IMAX Cinema
Robert O’Brien has been working in the Audio Visual Industry for over 10 years, a love affair that was sparked by his time working in Dublin’s first IMAX Cinema. Sheridan’s theatre was opened in 1998, in the same location where Cineworld currently stands. The iconic cinema was a testament to Dublin’s vibrant film culture which has been a major feature of the city since Jame’s Joyce first opened the Volta Picture Theatre. But just like the Volta, perhaps Sheridan’s IMAX theatre was ahead of its time.
We spoke to Robert about his experiences with the theatre, as well as his crowdfunding campaign to produce a documentary about the theatre from its conception to its unfortunate closure in 2000.
FID: What made you join Sheridan’s IMAX theatre?
Robert O’Brien: This was only my second job ever! 16 years old! I had applied for a position as a member of Floor Staff because a friend from School had just finished up working there, and spoke very highly of it, and another of my friends was working there as a Projectionist at the time.
FID: What made working there different?
Robert O’Brien: It was something completely different from a regular cinema. Nowadays, people are used to seeing IMAX as it becomes more popular and mainstream in the latest blockbuster films released throughout the year, but back in 1998 when the cinema opened, and by 2000 (when I joined), IMAX was an experience out of this world compared to the ordinary cinema experience at that time! The original IMAX screen was 62 by 82 feet, pretty much double the size of the IMAX that currently operates in Cineworld – a completely different film-going experience. As far at the staff goes, everyone got along great, everyone was friends, a great environment to work in, and at 16 years old, there were a lot of people who I looked up to in IMAX and learned a lot from them.
FID: What were the theatre’s goals, in your opinion?
Robert O’Brien: I believe the Sheridan Group, who built the Parnell Centre, and was responsible for bringing IMAX to Ireland, prided themselves on being the first at doing things, bringing forward and launching new brands in Ireland. When IMAX opened initially in 1998, the content available was mainly educational: Everest, The Living Sea, Blue Planet, Ring of Fire, Into The Deep 3D, T-Rex 3D – with the notable exceptions of Disney’s Fantasia 2000, The Rolling Stones Live At The Max, Thrill Ride and Encounter In The Third Dimension 3D. Its obvious goal was to attract family visits, and mostly education based groups, school groups and that, with the content that was available to show at that point in time.
FID: Of the interviews you’ve filmed so far, what have been some of the key takeaways?
Robert O’Brien: The main focus of this documentary for me, being the Director and a former Staff member myself, was how everyone who worked there, still has this sort of un-dying love and fondness for IMAX. It’s unbelievable the amount of Archive material (Film Reels, Trailers, Books, T-Shirts, Staff Handbook, Promotional Brochures, Posters, Film Schedules, Etc.) that everyone has kept all these years! Everyone who worked there has at least one item they kept from their time in the cinema. It was a very special place to work, and a close-knit group of people. Everyone was so young when IMAX was open, and I guess we essentially grew up together working there and began friendships and a few marriages that last to this day!
FID: How do you feel the theatre contributed to Dublin’s film culture?
Robert O’Brien: As I said before, the original IMAX experience was simply amazing – just something that you couldn’t even describe really, unless you were fortunate enough to have seen a film there. IMAX 70mm film is something completely different from standard 35mm film, and I believe opened up a whole new experience for cinema-goers to experience in Dublin at the time. 1998 to 2000, Discovery Channel and the likes weren’t as readily available as they are today, so apart from maybe the Irish Film Institute (IFI), IMAX could have been the only place to see this educational-based content, and certainly the only place that was capable of showing 70mm IMAX film.
FID: Why does its story need to be told?
Robert O’Brien: After IMAX closed down, my interest in film grew even more and led to a decade long career as a 35mm Film and Digital cinema Projectionist – all of which had started working back in the original IMAX cinema. Once the new Digital cinema systems came into place around 6 years ago, most of the 35mm Projectionists were let go, which then led me into starting my own business, one part of which is filmmaking.
I was looking for a new project to work on, and had considered something to do with cinemas, and realised that not many people might be aware of the story behind the original IMAX cinema, and this belief and love all of the staff had, and still have for this cinema. Some people might not even be aware that before Cineworld, the original IMAX stood in that same building, in that exact same spot and was an anchor point alongside the old Virgin / UGC cinema in pulling customers towards the Parnell Centre.
FID: And finally, how do you feel the cinema’s loss has affected Dublin’s film culture?
Robert O’Brien: I think after we closed down in 2000 it was disappointing looking towards the new content/movies that were due to be released. Keeping in mind, this was 2000 – Christopher Nolan, JJ Abrams and all those IMAX advocates from today, weren’t around 17 years ago, so the only content available in IMAX was mainly educational. A new 3D movie Cyberworld 3D was due for release October / November 2000, and we had been heavily advertising the arrival of this, and had been showing some short preview clips with select showings. Shortly thereafter I believe James Cameron did some IMAX content for a Titanic documentary, and all of a sudden there was an abundance of amazing, new, interesting, non-educational content coming on IMAX, but unfortunately nowhere to screen such films in Dublin after we had shut our doors.
I think it’s great to have an IMAX cinema back in Dublin, when Cineworld re-fitted their original Screen 17 as an IMAX screen. I worked in Cineworld as a 35mm Film Projectionist for almost 3 years, and was able to visit the new IMAX screen. It’s an amazing system, state of the art equipment that can do things you couldn’t imagine… But it’s just not the same as the original. Obviously screen-size plays a huge part, but for me, and most of the original IMAX staff, there will never be anything like the experience you could get from those days.
Funding for the project closes on the 31st March, if you would like to support the documentary you can do so here.