For a while in my life, I have been part of Italian history without fully realizing it.
Speaking of work, I have lived two very different lives. Before doing what I currently do, which is running this website and working freelance as a translator, I have worked for some years in the corporate world.
Immediately after getting my degree at university, I was hired by the most important company in my area, whose name was Ferrania Imagining Technologies. At the time, in 1999, the company – a spin-off of Kodak – was producing photo and radiographic films.
A view of the plant in 1918
When I was hired, I was incredibly happy because I had been given the opportunity of being part of a multinational with sites all over the world and, since I was running the IT support desk, I had the chance of interacting with people from many different countries – which is something I really like and is one of the reasons why Instantly Italy is born.
In the beginning, I didn’t fully realize that I had entered a place that made history. In my area, Ferrania – which is also the name of the place where the company was located – was really famous because it was a big company, it was international and working there was considered a real privilege. But I never took the time to dig deeper into its history.
The site was so huge employees needed bikes to move around. Every employee had its own.
And I haven’t done that – I was young and really focused on the present, you know – until I changed jobs and became the assistant to the CEO and had access to the enormous archive of the company. There I discovered a lot of interesting things, which made me feel really proud of being part of such an incredible business.
Ferrania – the place not the company – is an incredibly small town near Savona. It’s part of the municipality of Cairo Montenotte: it has very few inhabitants now but was booming in the 60s and 70s, mainly due to the presence of the company. Everything began when, in 1915, the site was chosen to build a factory called SIPE (Società Italiana Prodotti Esplodenti) to produce gunpowder for the Russian artillery.
Growing wheat during the war
After World War I, the company changed production and started producing films for cinema, photography, and radiography. Thanks to an agreement with the famous French company Pathé Fréres, a new company came to life: it was the FILM (Fabbrica Italiana Lamine Milano). In 1923, the first cinematographic film was presented and in 1926 the Ferrania brand was born.
Things were going quite well and the business was growing but unfortunately, World War II put a stop to the production, due to the lack of raw materials and manpower. The business started again in 1946, right after the end of the war, and this saw the beginning of the golden era of FILM Ferrania, which went hand in hand with that of Italian movies since Ferrania films were used to produce most of the movies of the time.
An old advertisement for Ferrania cameras
So, if you watch an old movie by Vittorio De Sica or by Federico Fellini, it is most likely that it was filmed on Ferrania films. For example, La Ciociara, which won an Academy Award in 1960, was filmed on a Ferrania film! This might seem a little thing for you, but if you saw the small, secluded town where it all began, you’d be amazed as well.
The real business boom for the company was in the 60s. Ferrania was acquired by 3M and became first Ferrania – 3M and then 3M Italia, in 1971. The company became a reference point in the area, it was rich and constantly growing. Wages were higher than those of most companies nearby and there were benefits people working elsewhere could only dream of.
An advertisement for Super 8 films
In the 70s, more than 4000 employees were working there and people still remember the endless stream of people leaving the company at 5 pm, when the day shift ended, walking down the main road to reach the train station. Unfortunately, it is a story that has a sad end because, after many spin-offs, the company entered a huge crisis in 2004 and very little remains of its golden past.
I left Ferrania in 2006 and it was a very sad moment because it was really like leaving your family. For a while, the company was even called mamma Ferrania because it treated its employees like a mother, giving them lots of “luxurious” things like presents for the kids at Christmas, discounted trips and concerts, top medical insurance and lots of uncommon benefits for other similar companies.
Sofia Loren and Vittorio De Sica on La Ciociara’s set
But the glorious past of Ferrania is not forgotten because something is beginning again. In 2013, a new FILM Ferrania was established: they restored part of the old film plants and started producing camera films again. They have been going through a lot of problems but it seems that they keep working hard to make the dream happen.
Moreover, a very beautiful thing happened: on September 15th, the Ferrania Film Museum opened its doors in Cairo Montenotte. I had the opportunity of seeing it in advance one year ago and I was really stricken by how beautiful it was. The set-up is brilliant and the number of items on display is really astonishing. I can’t wait to go back to see it in its final version (and I will take you with me as I plan on writing a post about it).