Flic Film: a new film developer supplier standing with the giants

6 min read
A mockup of the Flic Film factory that’s currently under construction in Longview, Alberta.

The pandemic forced a monumental shift that was already occurring in the film photography industry. All of the sudden, supply chains broke down and manufacturers struggled to get their supplies out on time. And as if to add insult to injury, Kodak Alaris was delivering developing chemicals that were dead on arrival. 

“[My customers] brought back two packages of D-76 and I looked in the rest I had in stock — I just started opening bags — and I had one that had turned grey, and one that turned the color of cornmeal. And there’s nothing in the D-76 formula that should turn yellow or grey. I looked at that, and went, ‘okay, there’s a big problem here,’ said David Marshall, owner of The Film Experience camera store in Longview Alberta.

“I had a guy supplying ECN-2 kits but it was very unreliable, and the main C41 supplier for North America has been notoriously running out of product over the last few years. So it’s just a matter of frustration — I just thought I’d take a look at this and see how to do it.”

“Of course, it got completely carried away, and now I’m building a new factory.”

Longview is a village of no more than 300 people in southern Alberta. It’s the kind of Canadian community where you might expect to see nothing more than a Tim Hortons’, a church, and maybe a Canada Post office. 

But now David Marshall has made this unlikely village the home of Flic Film — one of the latest companies to join in on the film photography revival. 

Throughout the pandemic, Marshall built his business on the promise of environmental stewardship, good packaging, and robust supply. Flic Film is making products using legacy formulas under new names. Their lineup includes clones of products like D-76, D-96, Dektol, a liquid developer similar to XTol, and even Kodak Flexicolor C41 and ECN-2 developers.  

The Flic Film color developers are some of the only ones on the market that separate the bleach and fix, offering film photographers a more reliable and higher-capacity film developing option. 

“What we did differently is we started separating the bleach and the fix. It’s not rocket science, it’s what every photo lab does as well. The way I got started on that, is we were doing ECN-2 kits, and I was looking at the capacity we were getting out of these kits, it was enormous,” Marshall explained. 

“We have the same capacity out of a half a liter as a blix mixture will do with 1L.”

Marshall explained that the reason blix kits have less capacity is because the blix slowly becomes more alkaline as the blix mixes with trace amounts of developer. When that blix becomes alkaline, photographers will notice a red tinge across their negatives, Marshall explained.

Other than their own D-76, D-96, and Dektol developers, Flic Film makes a highly-concentrated environmentally-friendly developer based on a classic phenidone and ascorbic acid formula. Flic Film’s version is called Black, White, and Green, and produces results similar to Xtol, but comes packaged in a long-lasting solution similar in viscosity to the old HC-110 formula. 

“Phenidone is the most friendly of all the developers. It’s not toxic to plants, it’s not toxic to fish. The other developers, metol and hydroquinone — the major guys — are not good for fish, and are not good for plants. But phenidone is pretty innocuous,” Marshall said. 

Developing a roll of film requires around 1/10th as much phenidone as it does metol according to The Film Developing Cookbook by Bill Troop and Steve Anchell. Meaning not only is the developing agent less toxic, but there’s so little of the chemical present that it has next to no impact. 

Marshall noted the developer has an extremely long shelf life. The developer produces flat negatives with a slight speed boost in the shadows and fine grain because of the extended developing time required. The end result is professional-looking negatives with enhanced details that are flexible for scanning and printing. 

While the format of the Black, White, and Green developer is novel, the idea and formula have been around for a long time. 

“I know there are people who are going to say, ‘oh, I did that back in 1979.’ And I’ll say, ‘yeah, I know you did.’ The thing about it is that it’s not easy to create on a commercial basis.” 

Marshall explained that the reason he’s able to create and produce a developer like this is because he’s not working at the same scale as companies like Kodak and Ilford. Flic Film is able to produce a 6-month supply of a developer like Black, White, and Green out of a single, 250L barrel. 

Being an environmental steward in the film photography community is one of the core principles of Flic Film. The village of Longview, Alberta has a small village council, but since there are no major cities nearby the community will not have sophisticated sewer systems capable of handling environmental contaminants. 

That means Flic Film has to take caution with the way they handle their machinery so that they don’t end up polluting the nearby river and productive farmland that make this community home.

“Years ago, film photography was named as the worst environmental impact on the planet. And that’s when a lot of pictures were being dumped out of the labs and such. Silver is a heavy metal, and that was the single worst environmentally damaging industry,” Marshall said. 

So one of the biggest ways Flic Film reduces their impact is by ensuring nothing goes down the drain. 

“First off, I’m in Longview, I can’t just start flushing stuff down the sewer, that’s nuts. And I can’t build some kind of complex catchment area for that. So we do it dry,” he explained. 

“The manufacturing system that we’re using is working very very well. We don’t have to throw things out, we don’t have to pollute, and we don’t have to control that end of it. That’s our biggest advantage, and it’s something that we can very proudly point to, that we are not adding to the horrors that photochemistry has done in the past.” 

It’s clear that Flic Film is producing a number of products that film developers have been asking for for so long. Seeing new producers creating products with the environment in mind is great news for photographers everywhere. At the moment, this company is just starting to supply stores across Canada and the US at fast paces, and is already seeing products empty of the shelves

To learn more about Flic Film, including where to buy their products, go to www.flicfilm.ca

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