Pistiolas, the camera man

The movie cameras cover every inch of wall, all of them neatly arranged, dusted and labeled. So the only place for the laminated posters of old film stars and Greek actors is on the floor. The tiny basement houses the world’s largest private collection of movie cameras – 937 vintage models and projectors, all owned by retired postman Dimitris Pistiolas. And this collection recently made it once again into the Guinness World Records. «It’s been listed in the Guinness Book of Records eight times… I don’t want anyone to catch up with me,» says Pistiolas, a silver-haired, soft-spoken, 78-year-old. Ronald Grant, a director at the Cinema Museum in London, where vintage movie paraphernalia and cameras are on display, says it’s a difficult task to collect and restore so many old cameras. They don’t just come from shops – the collector has to hunt around at fairs and in auction rooms, never mind the money it costs to buy them, Grant said, speaking by telephone from the museum, which was once a workhouse for the homeless where Charlie Chaplin briefly stayed. Pistiolas started buying cameras at the age of 15 and never stopped. The cameras steadily filled the cupboards and shelves of his house and eventually took over his wife’s craft shop, now the museum. Press clippings are taped to the back of the front door, next to a prized certificate from the Guinness Book of World Records. The cameras in the cabinets, all restored to working order, fill a space of about 270 square feet (25 square meters), the size of a storage shed. Pistiolas says there’s every kind of camera for every kind of film. «There’s 8 millimeter, super-8, 16 millimeter, 35 millimeter, amateur and professional… I don’t have a favorite,» he says. «I love them all, even the most plastic-looking.» A line of switches near the entrance to the museum is hooked up to run projectors, operate a drop-down screen and activate an alarm system. The museum is in a part of central Athens where crime is common, so the basement stays padlocked. Visits are by invitation only. «My mind is always on the museum when I’m at home,» Pistiolas said. When video became popular in the 1980s, movie cameras were easy to come by. But they have steadily become more scarce, only found in junk markets or through word-of-mouth. The Pistiolas family used to watch classic American movies on a screen at their home before the era of mainstream television. He remembers his two kids pulling reels of film through the house. The 1942 movie «Casablanca» remains his favorite. And he is fond of film stars such as James Cagney and Judy Garland as well as Greek actors popular in the 1950s and 60s. Pistiolas’s family watched his collection grow over the decades, moving from disbelief to acceptance to pride. The collector’s daughter, Theodora Pistiola, remembers being filmed by her father as a child – «like Big Brother in the house, but in a nice way.» She has hopes of moving the collection to a bigger space, perhaps with the help of private or government sponsorship. But her father might take some persuading. Pistiolas admits he’s turned down a couple of offers. He’d like to get more space for the collection, but would want to stay on as supervisor. «I don’t want a civil servant looking after all this, not someone who doesn’t care,» he says. «Because if I lost even one of these cameras, I’d be very upset. This is my little church.» Pistiolas says his collection is his hobby, his way of staying sharp and young in mind. He insists he’ll never stop collecting. Cameras, he characteristically says, are his lovers. (AP)

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