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Stavros Tornes - Grabbing the bull by its horns
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“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.”

                                                                                                                     Albert Camus, The Stranger

Making Balamos

In the midst of that invincible summer of ’88, winter came. It was the 26th day of July. Winter in Camus’ passage can be read as the Greek Cinema Establishment. The invincible summer, as Stavros Tornes. Unlike Meursault’s passiveness and momentary sparkles of Will, Tornes’ wheels of cosmic kept spinning for 56 unforeseen years. 

Describing -among others- cinema as “…being the point of convergence-divergence between the real and the unthinkable, the imaginary and the impossible” in his Manifest of 1977, Tornes draws a clear line between the local film establishment and himself. That same establishment which later ΄made΄ him a theatre auditorium, creating an imaginary, big and collective womb that carries, so, generates different audiences each time – “… cinema can juxtapose pleasure. This ritual of being with others inside a big, dark room and watching along, getting mesmerized by the screen size, is irreplaceable”

We first find him in the early ‘60s, after finishing film school, while he walks and talks among filmmakers Dimos Theos, Takis Kanellopoulos, Costas Sfikas, and Adonis Kyrou on the search for cinema’s big secrets. Before that he assists directors and impersonates for others in late ‘50s films. 15 years or so before manifesting his thoughts, Tornes makes two documentaries of archeological sites for the Greek Tourist Organization. In the same time, he meets and works with Elia Kazan in America, America and with Michalis Cacoyannis in his Zorba the Greek

Making Karkalou

“Cinema is this Promise-Threat: the return of the Inconceivable, the audacity of the Unforeseen”.

The colonel’s coup of 1967 finds him and Costas Sfikas finishing their short documentary Theraic Dawn, a harsh portray of the big first tourist wave in the island of Santorini. Fleeing Greece, he goes to Italy, then to France and the Middle East where he and other Greeks traveled and yelled a lot against their country’s new ways. Maybe he remembers that period when, in 1977, he writes: “Cinema Is the liberating application of the Margin in search of its proper World (Cosmos)”

4 years before saying the above, he pays a clandestine visit to his home-country to shoot another docu-short, Students. He returns to Italy and works for Francesco Rosi, the Taviani brothers and Roberto Rosselini. In 1970 he leads in Agnes Varda’s TV film Nausicaa. He keeps himself buzzy by writing scripts, acting for young directors, becoming member of the Guida Poetica Italiana and the Post-Avant-garde movements, publishing texts and doing a lot of painting. 

“Every minute Stavros Tornes was aging an hour”, said about his friend the French director Louis Skorecki few days after his death, capturing, in a way, a man’s life in a single moment-sentence; aged but younger, marginalized but stronger, thus, healthier. “I’d like to see the Greek films recapture that which silent cinema left us with: clarity and strength”. More than words looking like leftovers from his early archeological documentaries, clarity and strength also resemble the ‘sound mind in healthy body’ ancient saying which sounds like being said by Tornes in a past life of the 5th century before our lord. 

Charlotte van Gelder and Stavros Tornes

In 1976, two years after democracy’s restore in Greece, he films along with his poet friends the short-length Farewell Anatolia, while, next year he delivers in remnants of black and white films his first feature-one, Coatti, which the French ‘Liberation’ described as “a film only for the few crazies of cinema”. He returns to Greece in 1981, documenting poets and places, preparing himself for Balamos, his second feature film. In the words of the Variety magazine: “It is an off-trail work, a skillful poetical film [...] Balamos is a wandering man living in a fantastic world. He wishes to buy a horse and travel on it. He meets many obstacles to find one and goes through strange adventures and situations which lead him to overcome the limits of time and place. Balamos lives between reality and his imagination...”, or, how you implement a manifest. The film participates at Thessaloniki International Film Festival of 1982 provoking reactions and winning the Pan-Hellenic Critic Association award. 

“Cinema is the land of the accursed and the intoxicated”.

So is the world of Karkalou, his next piece of work which, this time, Thessaloniki IFF excluded from its festival selection, turning the film into a big event for people who saw it in a sub-activity during the ’84 festival. Again people praising, critics awarding. “Stavros Tornes -and his alter ego and companion, Charlotte van Gelder- have made their film on their own, in the course of an eventful life, without waiting for any green light, with the strength of those who have –the supreme luxury- of the time to reflect on what they’re doing […] stone is stone, fiction is fiction, ghosts also die, an old man plays like a child, a young man grows old, children symbolize death, one shot succeeds the other with the imminent (and improvable) clarity of a dream” wrote Serge Daney of Liberation.

On the set of Balamos

Expressing himself through cinema it’s now a way of life. In 1985, he and Charlotte as his co-writer make Danilo Treles (The Famous Andalusian Musician) and with its notions of poetry and freedom confuses –again- the committee in Thessaloniki IFF. The daily Kathimerini wrote: “Danilo Treles is like a Dadaist game led by the ancient Volpone, the Fox Man, the spirit of cunning, master of perversion and sarcasm […] The most diverse characters, races and languages meet in the mountains and rivers of Epirus […] A gentle black musician gazes at a small lake from high up, in the soft light of dawn or sunset. In an interminable gesture he stretches out his body and catches an egg, contemplating it. There is something reminiscent of the dawn of creation in this scene”.

“Cinema is all the films not made, yet, contemplated in the explosion of existence”

A Heron for Germany was meant to be his last gesture. Waiting for the money to come from the Greek Film Center –which will never come- Tornes decides to shoot the film in adventurous conditions, with many close friends helping. “At a certain point his film takes off, like the heron of his title, in true poetic style. Besides its surrealistic poetry, Tornes΄ film is permeated with an anarchistic kind of humor, the work of a man who passionately loves cinema Screen International said". Nevertheless, the film is not accepted for the official selection at the Thessaloniki IFF of 1987. 

He dies July the 26th, 1988 at the age of 56 -like Andrei Tarkovsky-, working on The Poor Hunter from the South, a story we’ll never hear about.

  Danilo Treles (The famed Andalusian musician)
  A Heron for Germany
  Zorba the Greek
  Michael Cacoyannis
  Dimos Theos
  Takis Kanellopoulos
  Stavros Tornes
  Costas Sfikas
  Charlotte Van Gelder
  Thessaloniki International Film Festival
  Greek Film Center
  Sravros Tornes Facebook
  Sravros Tornes (Greek)
  Sravros Tornes Manifest
  Sravros Tornes Geocities
  altcine Explore movies by Country People To read
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