ORWO and FilmoTec: a history

ORWO UK is the UK and Republic of Ireland agent for FilmoTec ORWO GmBH black and white film products. 


FilmoTec ORWO GmBH was established in the east of Germany as a brand for the production of photographic film and magnetic tape, mainly produced at the former ORWO Filmfabrik Wolfen (now known as Chemical Park Bitterfeld-Wolfen). 


The company has a long and fascinating history.

In 1909 the Filmfabrik Wolfen (Wolfen Film Factory) was founded as part of the Aktien-Gesellschaft für Anilin-Fabrikation company, (popularly known as Agfa). The Agfa Wolfen plant developed some of the first colour film stocks to incorporate colour couplers. Known as Agfacolor, these stocks were introduced in 1936, one year after Kodak bought Kodachrome to the market.


From 1933 to 1945 the factory’s output was used by the Nazis to further the regime’s propaganda machine. Despite being the major producer of film stock in Germany the site was spared any major bombing until the 18th and 19th April 1945, when the factory was the site of ferocious fighting between the Nazis and advancing allied forces. These battles destroyed significant parts of the factory site.

On 20th April 1945 the factory and plant was occupied by US forces and important equipment, patents and documents regarding the Agfacolor process were confiscated and handed over to Western competitors.


As the plant was located in what was to become the Soviet Zone of occupied Germany, the US forces turned the factory over to a Soviet military administration. They dismantled large parts of the plant and moved them and key German staff members to the Soviet Union to boost the developing Soviet film industry. 


In 1953 the plant became the property of the East German government, and in a trade agreement settlement the East German company, 'VEB Film-und Chemiefaserwerk Agfa Wolfen', was given the right to sell their products under the Agfa brand name across Eastern Europe. The newly re-established Agfa based in the West German city of Leverkusen had the rights to the name in the rest of the world.


As this agreement seriously hampered the East German Agfa company's abilities to sell film in the West, the ORWO (Original Wolfen) brand and trademark were introduced in 1964.

In 1970 the Filmfabrik Wolfen became the company's headquarters.  Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the reunification of Germany the company was privatised, and since 1990 a number of new companies continue the tradition of ORWO film production on site. 


The current film production company ORWO FilmoTec GmbH was formed in 1998, and continues to manufacture a range of film products including high quality black and white 16mm & 35mm negative and print stocks, internegative (duplicate) stocks for archival use, as well as soundtrack stock, machine leaders and film for laboratory use. 

A museum dedicated to preserving and explaining the history of film production in Wolfen can be found here. 

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