Ferrania has been making both still and motion picture film since 1923 in the northwest Liguria region of Italy. Ferrania made 35mm and 120 consumer films, as well as inexpensive cameras that were popular in Italy. The brand Ferrania was gradually phased when purchased by 3M in 1964. After 3M in 1999, the brand continued, but finally shuttered in 2010. In 2013 the brand was acquired by a newly formed company under the name of FILM Ferrania s.r.l., acquiring some of Ferrania’s manufacturing equipment, buildings, and a number of Ferrania technicians. On February 1, 2017 FILM Ferrania presented a new black and white film – P30 Alpha. It is a panchromatic, 80 ASA speed film with very high silver content, based on the old formula used to produce cinematographic films.
The story of Ferrania began in 1882 when the Società Italiana Prodotti Esplodenti (Italian Society of Explosive Products) factory was built on the banks of the Bormida River in the village of Cairo Montenotte in the Liguria region of Italy. The plant gained prominence during World War I when Tsar Nicholas II used SIPE to produce nitrocellulose-based explosive powders.
After the “Red October” Soviet revolution SIPE was left with huge stockpiles of nitrocellulose and no customers so the factory’s focus turned toward the production of celluloid (nitrocellulose plus camphor) – the material that forms the base of photographic film. SIPE renamed themselves FILM (Fabbrica Italiana Lamine Milano) and teamed up with the legendary French Pathé Brothers, who were Europe’s largest producer of photosensitive materials.
In 1920, testing began on the first cinema films – but FILM was unable to produce an economically viable product for several years. The Pathé Brothers saw little hope of making a profit and eventually surrendered their share of the company to Credito Italiano, an Italian bank who had also bailed out the struggling Milan-based glass plate manufacturer, Cappelli.
Upon the departure of the Brothers in 1923, engineer Franco Marmont was named President and CEO of the newly restructured FILM Ferrania and began to turn the company around – first by lowering prices (initially at a loss), and then reducing production costs. Sales flourished.
In 1924, Ernst Leitz released the first Leica cameras, effectively ending the age of glass plates and turning the celluloid-based film into a mass-produced, global commodity in a very short period of time. FILM Ferrania rode this wave, expanding to produce x-ray, 16mm cinema, and many roll film formats like 120 and 35mm. The momentum continued to build.
In 1932, FILM acquired the Cappelli company, and products were briefly marketed and sold as FILM Cappelli-Ferrania. In 1936, camera production began in Cappelli’s Milan factory and for many years thereafter, they were known as both a film and camera producer.
By 1938, ownership had changed a couple more times, the company was renamed Ferrania, and the Cappelli connection dissolved – but the factory grew to occupy over 90,000 square meters with a staff of more than 500.
A small selection of images from Ferrania circa the 1930s, showing a flourishing company, including photos showing the campus in it’s newly built state, as well as glimpses into the robust cultural activity groups formed by the staff. More images are available online.
With novice-level cameras on the market and the mainstreaming of photography, Ferrania’s production of 35mm and 120 films blossomed along with the already famous cinema products.
Through much of the 30s and 40s, Ferrania film was a nearly obligatory “choice” for most directors due to the fascist government and their autarchic policies. The movies made during that time period were unrealistically positive, with opulent productions and fanciful characters.
As time progressed, a new breed of Italian filmmakers shrugged off the old ways of Italian filmmaking, opting for a gritty, urban style called Neorealism. These directors remained loyal customers of Ferrania not because they had to, but because they loved the film. Neorealism eventually faded as a style, but still had an enormous global impact.
All the great Italian directors of the mid-twentieth century remained true to Ferrania for its quality and flexibility. The big names of Italian cinema – Pier Paolo Pasolini, Vittorio De Sica, Roberto Rossellini, and Federico Fellini – are all permanently linked to Ferrania.
The best-known Ferrania film stock from that era is the legendary P30 black and white film. This film was the subject of a massive advertising campaign in the United States in the wake of Sophia Loren’s 1960 Academy Award for the film Two Women, directed by Vittorio De Sica.
The original hand-written formula for P30 film
Two select photos from Ferrania’s Golden Age of Cinema. Many more images are available online.
Ferrania’s popularity multiplied in 1963 with two more Oscars for 8½ by Federico Fellini and starring Marcello Mastroianni and Claudia Cardinale, and shot on P30.
Demand was so enormous that Ferrania produced 35mm and 120 versions of P30 so that non- professional photographers could “feel a bit Fellini,” with their still photo cameras. It was a huge commercial success.
The first color emulsion, Ferraniacolor, dates back to 1952 and was pretty much hated by directors of photography for the lack of sensitivity in its early versions. Ferraniacolor would require several more years to perfect and finally get to the level of the primary competitors, Agfa and Kodak.
By the mid-60s in Italy, Sofia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida, and Claudia Cardinale were known globally as Italian sex symbols. Rossellini, De Sica, and Fellini had cemented their legendary status. Ferrania was synonymous with photography and cinema. Almost every Italian had a Ferrania camera and film at home, and the trademark was as famous and established as Olivetti and Fiat.
It is precisely at this peak of success that Ferrania attracted the attention of the 3M Corporation in America.
By the 1960s, Ferrania had become a highly respected company, and a major presence in Europe, with consumer products beginning to gain a foothold in the larger market. Ferrania was especially well known, on a global level, for the production of cinema products and film for use by medical professionals.
With this success came the attention of the 3M Corporation in America. In 1964, they acquired Ferrania S.p.A. in a stock purchase valued at $55 million and renamed the company to Ferrania-3M. It was 3M’s largest acquisition in its 62-
year history. Josef Kuhn, 3M’s former senior vice president of Engineering, Quality and Manufacturing Services, later said, “Ferrania had excellent technology for filmmaking and coating; better than we had.”
The Ferrania-3M years are remembered by all who worked there as being full of great professional opportunities. 3M fast-tracked the L.R.F. building to allow for extensive research and development and provided high-quality training and other programs for their new Italian crew. Machinery and processes were upgraded. They introduced the world’s fastest daylight-balanced color transparency film in 1983 – a milestone that was never surpassed. The greatest strides were made in medical X-ray films, including a high-speed film that cut down exposure time and a system that eliminated the need for a darkroom to load and process X-ray film. The campus grew to reach over 500,000 square meters of space across more than 20 buildings.
Below is a selection of found photographs from an unknown Ferrania employee, made during a trip to the U.S. in the mid-60s. The photos show 3M’s Los Angeles announcement of the Ferrania purchase, as well as a parade that was happening on Hollywood Boulevard during the visit.
This is also the period, however, when the Ferrania brand name quickly disappeared.
3M already had several widely recognized brands and had little interest in continuing to use a name that did not offer added value to US customers. In a short time, 3M’s Scotch brand took over as the main vehicle for consumer film products globally.
“Ferrania had the technology and well-educated, good people but taking on Kodak was a big challenge…” said Kuhn at the time. Kodak had a practical monopoly in the US in those days, and it was even rumored that Ferrania- 3M moved out of the cinema business rather than compete with the industry giant.
While Ferrania-3M’s coating expertise was a plus, the photographic business struggled with quality issues, and effective marketing eluded them. Meanwhile, other new competitors entered the scene including Britain’s Ilford and Japan’s Fuji. Germany’s Agfa also became a global force in consumer films after years of being largely an “Eastern Bloc” brand.
Ultimately, Ferrania-3M found the greatest success as the largest supplier of private label film to customers around the world. By the 1990s, the only trace that remained of the Ferrania connection was the tiny “Made in Italy” printed on millions of rolls of film and disposable cameras, sold under hundreds of different brands, in supermarket and drugstore chains worldwide.
The final blow to the old Ferrania brand came on November 14, 1995, when 3M announced an unprecedented restructuring of the company. The leadership had decided to spin off its data-storage and imaging businesses into a new company and discontinue its audio and videotape
businesses. The new company, Imation, was heavily promoted in the media – an effort to retain its connection with 3M – but film packaging changed once again, putting even more distance between Ferrania and the customer.
The Imation company’s relationship with Ferrania was short-lived, lasting only until 1999 when the Italian operations were sold to an investment company. While this allowed for the Ferrania brand to be resurrected, it was already too late. Digital photography had just begun to eat away at film sales and they lacked sufficient resources and know-how to mount the sort of global marketing campaign that would cut through the dominant voices of Kodak, Fuji, Agfa and Ilford.
Throughout the 3M Era, Ferrania built a reputation as the film manufacturer of note for hundreds of grocery and drug store chains, regional brands, and industrial customers. Even a few major brands like Polaroid, Lomography, and Konica have, at one time or another, purchased the finished film from Ferrania for their own branded products. This business-to-business approach remained the primary focus in the post-Imation years – until the mid-2000s when, almost simultaneously, Apple released its first iPhone and global film sales took a drastic nose-dive.
By 2006, Ferrania was again restructuring, emerging as Ferrania Technologies, which is focused on pharmaceutical products, and spinning off its new solar panel manufacturing division into Ferrania Solis. These two remain healthy businesses to this day – and our neighbors.
The film factory limped along, finally ending operations in 2010 when the last building was powered down and the doors locked.
In 2013, the photographic film production line was acquired by the new company FILM Ferrania s.r.l. which took over some of Ferrania’s manufacturing equipment and buildings, as well as a number of those Ferrania technicians laid off in 2012. FILM Ferrania inherited the historic brand Ferrania to launch analog products suitable for the actual needs of the cine/photo market. In 2013, FILM Ferrania announced an intention to produce new versions of the historic Solaris FG-100 Plus color negative film and Scotch Chrome 100 color slide film in a variety of formats, with a potential emphasis on cine film. In an interview, Nicola Baldini, chief of the new company, stated his intention of also bringing back black-and-white films, especially the historical Ferrania P30.
On November 19, 2013, Film Ferrania presented the main core of production and R&D, formed by eight people with years of experience in the field, who are listed by their names, biography, and photos, on the company’s website. On September 2014, Film Ferrania, after an online survey, announced a crowdfunding on the platform Kickstarter to obtain $250,000 from the founders to buy some machines from the old plant of Ferrania. On October 29, 2014, Film Ferrania terminated the fundraising campaign reaching $322,420 (128% of the original target) and announced that as a prize for the donations, they will send films of the first batch of 35mm, 120, super8 and 16mm test rolls based on the original Scotch Chrome 100.
However, Film Ferrania suffered numerous production delays due to asbestos discoveries, and numerous infrastructural issues. In late 2015, FILM Ferrania CEO Baldini told German magazine Cine 8-16 that the new time schedule was to start the first test batch to send to donators by spring 2016, which will include a line of color reversal films based on ScotchChrome in the ISO speeds and color balances of 64D, 100D, 200D, 400D, 640T, and 800/3200T, in the formats of 135 and 120 for still photography, as well as Super8 and 16mm. Later, a negative line based on the Solaris stock will follow in speeds of 100, 200, and 400 ISO.
On February 1, 2017 FILM Ferrania presented a new black and white film – P30 Alpha. It is a panchromatic, 80 ASA speed film with very high silver content, based on the old formula used to produce cinematographic films. Although the first film produced by FILM Ferrania was supposed to be a color reversal film, the company decided to produce a test batch of black and white film to test the restored machines used to produce the film. After seeing the results from the test batch company owners decided to release the P30 as an alpha version, to be improved upon based on user feedback.View Index