ORWO (for ORiginal WOlfen) is a brand of excellence in black and white film products, made in Germany.

IndustryPhotography Film, Motion Picture Film, Archiving Film

It was established in East Germany as a brand for photographic film and magnetic tape, mainly produced at the former ORWO Filmfabrik Wolfen (now Chemical Park Bitterfeld-Wolfen).

In 1909 the Filmfabrik Wolfen was founded as part of the Aktien-Gesellschaft für Anilin-Fabrikation (Agfa) and belonged to I.G. Farben since 1925. The Agfa Wolfen plant developed one of the first modern colour films, with incorporated colour couplers, Agfacolor, in 1936, one year after Kodachrome.

Currently, the ORWO cutting edge range of black and white film products incorporates negative film for motion picture production, duplicating film, print film, sound recording film, and film leaders for the processing and distribution business. ORWO continues to produce a wide range of film products on the site where motion picture film manufacture has been a tradition since 1910, and where continuing innovative development in film technology has been a feature of the ORWO brand since 1964.

After World War IIEdit

On 20 April 1945, following the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, the plant was taken over by US forces and important patents and other documents regarding the Agfacolor process were confiscated and handed over to Western competitors, such as Kodak and Ilford. As the plant was located in what was to become the Soviet zone of occupied Germany, the US forces then handed it over to the Soviet military administration, which dismantled large parts of the plant and moved it, with key German staff, to the Soviet Union, where it formed the basis for the Soviet colour film industry.

ORWO in the GDREdit

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

As the trade agreement seriously hampered the East German company's abilities to sell in the western countries, the ORWO trademark (patterned after ORiginal WOlfen) was introduced in 1964.

After the formation of the Combine VEB Fotochemisches Kombinat Wolfen in 1970 the VEB ORWO Filmfabrik Wolfen became its headquarter.[1] Founder members of the new Combine were Fotopapierwerke Dresden, Fotopapierwerke Wernigerode, Gelatinewerke Calbe, Fotochemische Werke Berlin and the Lichtpausenwerk Berlin.

ORWO-branded 35mm colour slide film became available in the United Kingdom in the 1970s through magazine advertisements for mail order suppliers. It was a cheaper alternative to the mainstream brands available at the time.

ORWO prepared the changeover from AgfaColor to C-41, similar to considerations in the USSR, but had not completed until the end of the GDR,[2] which lead to decreasing sales figures in the western countries, where the Kodak C-41 process dominated the market.

After 1990: FilmoTec GmbHEdit

Following the merger of East Germany and West Germany, the company was privatized in 1990. After several bankruptcies, a number of companies are continuing the tradition of ORWO. These are the ORWO FilmoTec GmbH, ORWO Net AG (digital photo supplies), Organica Feinchemie GmbH Wolfen, FEW Chemicals GmbH, Folienwerk Wolfen GmbH – all together suppliers for optical, electrical and film industry – and further companies.[3]

The ORWO FilmoTec GmbH was formed in 1998, which continues to manufacture a reduced range of former ORWO products.

FilmoTec is now unique in the manufacture of film in the town of Wolfen, which has a long established pedigree as a centre of excellence for film manufacture in Germany.

Its corporate mission is leadership in specialized professional film markets throughout the World, through the provision of products of technical excellence in performance and quality, researched to provide synergy with the finest State of the Art being demanded by today’s professional users.

FilmoTec’s outstanding ability has been created using the wealth of human resources available to provide the best of expertise for its current operations, incorporating highly qualified German research scientists, production engineers, and managers, all skilled in the field of film manufacture. Having superseded such famous local giants as the firm of ORWO Filmfabrik Wolfen, FilmoTec is proud to be the modern successor to such a traditional local heritage.

FilmoTec’s business is focused upon the policy of concentrating its powerful technical resources into important black and white motion picture niche markets under the ORWO brand, and in being the most excellent and innovative manufacturer in this area to serve the demanding specialized needs of its true professionals. Products are particularly aimed towards the technical needs of the world’s Archive Industry, Motion Picture Industry, and Holographic Industry.

In partnership with ORWO North America, ORWO film currently supplies all US Library of Congress black and white industrial films, in addition to high-profile archival clients like The Smithsonian and MOMA. For example, black-and-white movies that have been selected by the US Library of Congress for archival copy preservation in the last 5 years have been most likely reprocessed on to ORWO film.

The ORWO trademark is used by ORWO Net AG and FilmoTec GmbH for a variety of photographic products.[4]

2020: The ORWO FamilyEdit

As a 100+ year old company, ORWO has had a long and varied history and in 2020 was proud to announce the reunification of the IP, recipes, brand, R&D and production; for the first time in 50 years. ORWO's legendary films are now finally all in one place and its fan base are now eagerly waiting for the return of medium-format film stocks and the introduction of new, ground-breaking Cine and archiving stocks.

ORWO now has a global footprint and many exciting new products and potentials, focusing relentless on quality, innovation and integrity.

For the first time this century, the IP and know how of Agfa Motion Pictures, and its spin off ORWO was united under one common shareholder. This brought together IC Investments, InovisCoat, FilmoTec and a range of other companies, underneath one banner.

The vision is big - bring back high quality analogue films - for photographic and for cinema. For use in cameras, on film sets and in cinemas. For use in archiving - of data, paper and audio visual. ORWO now demonstrably has the best film stock in the world for archiving, for black and white and for sound reproduction. It is now passionately investing in R&D to bring further innovations into this important cultural space.

The new German company is very active in the film space and is obsessed with improving every aspect of the film value chain. It's motto - make film, not video.

Welcome to the analogue revolution.

Wolfen Industrial and Film MuseumEdit

The Industrie- und Filmmuseum Wolfen provides a permanent exhibition about the history of the Filmfabrik Wolfen and the ORWO products.

Visitors gain deep insights into the challenging temperatures and light conditions by inspecting the particular machines that produced the world's first marketable colour film in 1936. The site displays the complete manufacturing process: from the production of the film strip to the composition of the light-sensitive photographic developer and the subsequent processing, drying and packaging. The process was initiated by a machine from 1930, which produced the film base as a medium for photographic emulsion. This emulsion or developer, made from up to 50 different chemicals in a top secret composition, is finished in the previously dark melting chamber before being applied to the film base by another machine in an immersion process. The next step, a drying tunnel with temperatures between 8 and 40 degrees Celsius, was a tough workplace as well. At the end of the tour there is no doubt about the fact that this factory not only made film history but also witnessed high-precision work under most severe conditions.[5]


  1. ^ "The Chemical Park – History". Chemical Park Bitterfeld-Wolfen. Retrieved 2016-10-27.
  2. ^ "Rohfilm". DEFA Stiftung. Retrieved 2016-10-27.
  3. ^ "The Chemical Park – Companies at the location". Chemical Park Bitterfeld-Wolfen. Retrieved 2016-10-27.
  4. ^ "50 Jahre Orwo". Wirtschaftshistoriker Rainer Karlsch (in German). Archived from the original on 2019-01-22. Retrieved 2019-01-22.
  5. ^ "Industry and Filmmuseum – ERIH". www.erih.net (in German). Retrieved 2021-06-21.

External linksEdit

  Media related to ORWO at Wikimedia Commons