Phil Rhodes looks at how Ferrania could be generating new prospects for photochemical film
A few months ago, I had the unfortunate job of writing an article for this site in which we discussed the end of Fuji as a motion picture film manufacturer. Much as we all understand the situation, photochemical film has been a long-lived technology – an immensely long-lived one, compared with anything else of similar complexity – and the end has clearly been nigh for some time. The old dog is still barking only because of a hale and surprising dedication to quality from both crew and producers, which they probably didn't really have to do from a sales and financial perspective.
And, strangely enough, prospects for photochemical origination may be stirring in an entirely unanticipated quarter. Ferrania, named after the area in Italy in which it was founded, manufactured a variety of film stocks from 1923 until 2009. Then, like everyone else, they found the market drying up and shut down film manufacturing. A distressingly large number of presumably mainly skilled staff, representing the vast majority of the company's 230 employees, were laid off in 2012.
Hope for the Future
So far, so depressing, but things are looking up: the name, site, and any remaining equipment have been purchased by a group of former employees, with the intention of starting back up in film manufacturing. When it closed down, the company produced some modern emulsions rated at ISO 200 and 400, although in the first instance they're intending to start making 100-speed films in negative and reversal. And yes, there's a stated intention from Film Ferrania's Nicola Baldini to produce the 100 reversal in motion picture formats. It's based on the stock latterly sold by Imation as Scotch Chrome 100, although presumably somewhat redesigned given the current availability of
the chemicals used to make it.
All of this is, without any doubt whatsoever, the best news for analogue film fans for quite some time. Kodak only make five 35mm camera negative films now, one of which is black and white, and none of them is reversal. I'm not sure how long it's been since there was any announcement of a new film stock whatsoever, and it is of course heartening to witness the founding of new enterprise, particularly in a western country, in high-tech engineering and manufacturing, and with the creation of skilled jobs. The company's website is very sparse at the moment, but on their brief blog entries they've already reported a healthy number of mailing-list signups.
Will it Work?
Whether this can work or not is a matter of conjecture at this point. There is only one other company doing this sort of work and it is a vastly different organisation to the new Film Ferrania. It is obviously possible to manufacture film stock. The issue is whether it's possible to market it and to sell it. Ferrania are, I suspect, some way from being ready to announce prices, but ultimately nobody avoids film for any reason other than that it is expensive. This doesn't matter if you're a director of photography working on high-end features and commercials. It does matter if you're an independent filmmaker, and the proportion of these two camps among the most vocal supporters of photochemical origination will determine the potential for success, especially if producers in the largest markets – the US, India, China – prefer to stick with the known quantity of Kodak. In short, I'm not sure if there's as much of a customer base as the noise level might suggest, although with Kodak now the sole supplier of motion picture film, it's not impossible to imagine that the presence of any competition whatsoever might have a noticeable effect on the market.
The desire for this to work out well is very strong from some quarters, and it seems churlish not to join them in the hope that it does. As soon as Ferrania can supply some film, which is apparently supposed to happen early next year, I'll go and shoot it, and report back here on the subject of what it looks like.