Hi. My name is Dave Bias and since late 2013, I’ve been the guy in charge of communications for FILM Ferrania. This is mostly accomplished by weekly video chats and copious emails with co-founder Nicola Baldini - all of it done from my laptop in New York City, where I live.
On December 5th, for the first time in these three years, I was invited to Ferrania - to meet the team, tour the campus, and gain a deeper understanding of the state of FILM Ferrania as it stands today.
I had initially planned to post this update immediately upon returning to New York City, however, after several drafts, it has proven to be more difficult than I expected.
The truth is that what I saw in Ferrania during my 48-hour visit was simply overwhelming. It was deeply emotional in ways that left me profoundly sad one minute, and jubilant the next.
After living with this experience for nearly three weeks now, I'm finally able to condense my thoughts into these two primary points.
1. 80% of FILM Ferrania is in storage.
The LRF is a building with a total interior space of 5000 square meters (about 54,000 square feet) over 5 floors of roughly the same size. It has very high ceilings and nearly 100 separate rooms, so it FEELS big. But it’s really not big at all by industrial standards. FILM Ferrania is currently utilizing only about one third of this total space, and the rest is full of tons and tons of stuff. Stuff that could be important or needed, but stuff we can worry about later.
In addition to the LRF, we have stuff in two other buildings that are currently safe from the wrecking ball. The main storage building is the size of a small aircraft hangar, and it houses hundreds of tons of equipment and parts and tools, as well as nearly 70 shrink-wrapped pallets of documents, and tens of tons of chemical components.
In the second building is the triacetate base production equipment that we quaintly call “Trixie.” This cutesy name, which I made up during our Kickstarter campaign, does not begin to honor the magnitude of this building. Spanning three floors and approximately 1500 square meters, “Trixie” is another building/machine similar to the LRF, and the massive equipment inside defies anyone to move it from where it was installed decades ago.
Thanks to our Kickstarter backers, and Marco’s personal quest to scavenge everything we could potentially need in the future - we now own every machine, every pipe and wire, every document, and every gram of chemistry inside these three buildings.
But if you were to add up the raw weight of everything, I would estimate that around 80% is still in storage, and only 20% is actually operational.
The 20% is the stuff that is absolutely essential to making miniJumbos of film - and absolutely nothing more. The 80% in storage is the stuff that will define the future of FILM Ferrania.
2. Six People Are Creating a Viable Future for Analog Film
That might sound like hyperbole, bit it isn’t. In fact, it bears repeating - six people have spent three and a half years restoring the LRF, returning the Precision Coater to working order, and preparing all of the chemistry necessary to make film. We’ve had some help here and there, of course, and Nicola and Marco have been vigilant in making sure that our Team of Six is always optimized and focused only on making film.
Two years ago, when we launched our Kickstarter campaign, we had everything in place to produce film from the previously existing materials and methods. If you look back at our posts, you can see the progress we were making. The delays that started in late-March 2015 closed our window to make film in this manner.
When the Team of Six was finally reconvened, it was decided to use entirely new materials and methods that were optimized for the status of the LRF and coater as it exists today.
All of the work that had been done before was effectively gone. After three and a half years, our team was basically starting from ZERO.
On September 7, we posted “Testing is Underway.” Everything that had happened - or didn’t happen - before that day was simply so that we could begin the phases leading to production.
In the afternoon on my second day at Ferrania, Marco received a call while we were retrieving an antique piece of equipment from storage. Nicola translated to me as Marco spoke. At around 5pm on Tuesday, December 6th, 2016, those six people coated 17 meters of photosensitive film. This was just first test of two-layer black and white film, and there were some issues with the run - but it was real film.
These six people went from ZERO to REAL FILM in just three months.
After touring the campus and seeing so much devastation, and so much work ahead of us in our storage building, and understanding that “Trixie” is the silliest name ever given to a very serious manufacturing operation, and experiencing the overwhelming complexity of the tiny part of the LRF that we are actually using - I must say that my confidence in our future was shaken.
In my opinion, no sane person could see what I saw in and around the LRF and not feel some doubt - but at the moment of that phone call, my doubts vanished. My confidence returned even stronger and in such a rush that I started crying.
I’m not typically a “tears of joy” kind of guy. When I’m happy, I laugh. It was only later that I realized that the tears were a potent mix of joy, relief, hope, and the ultimate expression of just how overwhelming my visit had been to that point.
That evening, as I was congratulating each member of our amazing team, it was clear to me that they did not feel the weight of the accomplishment to the same degree as me. Everyone was gracious and appreciative, but seemed surprised by my teary-eyed applause and thanks.
I think that from their perspective, this was just a small intermediate step, and full of problems that needed to be solved quickly. To me, however, the fact that these six people created viable photographic material in three months, in a building that is only partially in use, on a campus that is mostly in ruin, and with 80% of the company in storage, was nothing short of miraculous.
To all of our Kickstarter Backers who have waited patiently for over two years, and to the thousands more who have been following our story thus far, I can only say that the progress we’ve made in these past three months is very REAL. The film we made two weeks ago is REAL.
This is exposure #3 from that first roll, photographed in downtown Florence, Italy on an overcast day by Nicola Baldini. The negative was scanned on a consumer-grade desktop scanner with no adjustments. It was then cropped and saved as a high-quality JPG file. It is as completely un-retouched as a scan can be.
With the exception of a small amount of dust, most of the defects you can clearly see were caused by "bubbles" in the emulsion that burst during the drying stage. This caused distortions or even holes in the coating, and since the coater is always moving, these burst bubbles created long trailing streaks. If you click to enlarge the image, the issues become more obvious.
I think we can all agree that considering everything I've mentioned above - this is pretty astounding for a "first try."
To my eyes, the quality of the film shines through all of the technical problems. I hope you can see this as well.
More than anything, I hope you are able to and feel even a fraction of the pride and respect I feel toward Nicola, Marco, Corrado, Ezio, Luisa, Beppe and Ivano.