There is an abundance of metaphors to be made around volcanoes. They spring from you, you might say.
It’s quite another thing to make this figurative language and these themes literal: Katia and Maurice Krafft fell in love and died on a volcano.
fire of love, the haunting documentary directed by Sara Dosa and produced by Shane Boris, tells this fatal love story. They are volcanologists who met during their fieldwork in the 70s and transformed their field, working together to collect much-needed data and imagery of their seismically hazardous subject. Along the way, they achieved somewhat of a cult stardom, before their deaths in 1991.
The images they left are breathtaking. Filmed on handheld 16mm cameras, it rivals any drone footage you might see in documentaries recently shot with today’s technology. But their humanity is also present, a subset often ignored by science. “In the footage there is dust from the actual volcanoes where they spun,” Dosa told The Daily Beast’s Obsessed. “There are specks of hair that I’m sure belong to them. These things may seem imperceptible on a screen, but, at the same time, they can also be deeply felt.
Dosa and Boris talk to us in Savannah, where fire of love was screened under the spotlight at the SCAD Savannah Film Festival. The film premiered in January 2022 at the Sundance Film Festival, which due to the Omicron Wave was held virtually. The duo are currently shooting the film as part of an awards campaign with distributors National Geographic and NEON. Starting this weekend, it’s available to stream on Disney+.
“In Indonesia, someone came to us and hosted Katia when she worked there decades ago,” says Dosa. “There’s such a personal connection to this film.”
fire of love not only rapturously captures the intense bond shared by this married couple, but, through it, underlines the imperative of curiosity and reason when it comes to the dangerous unknowables of the world we live in. The Kraffts didn’t just collect data, they traveled to spouting volcanoes while everyone was fleeing in order to figure out how they worked. They risked their lives to save others.
The hottest emotions are at play here – romance, death and the beauty of both. With fire of love now available to stream, we spoke to Dosa and Boris about the emotional intensity of the film, especially in the documentary world. But also, what it’s like to be a fly on the wall for a couple so invested in their mission, it became their whole life and, then, their end.
It is a film that occupies several categories. It’s a love story. There is suspense and action. There is a spitting volcano. It is also educational. While you were putting this together, how did you juggle the different categories?
Dosage: We really think about fire of love in the form of a film-collage. Whether it was the theme of love, the unknowability of nature, volcanology or scientific research, we were very worried that it would become a soup of ideas. The clarifying lens of a love story really helped shape the overall arc. Where the main themes of science and love really seem to intersect is through the theme of the unknown – whether it’s the unknown mystery that is the force of creation expressed by volcanism, or it’s is the unknown of human hearts, which brought together Katia and Maurice.
Boris: And even if you can’t figure it out, you’ll still try. Katia and Maurice have a solid background in existentialist philosophy. You feel the depth of their investigation. You also see that they understand the absurdity of this kind of existential position. Thus, you also have an idea of the origin of their playfulness.
There’s something Shakespearean about that logline, that they fell in love and died on a volcano. It’s romantic, but there’s a bit of foreshadowing doom. How do you balance this romanticism with this morbidity?
Dosage: In the editing room, we realized that the proximity of death animated their lives. It really brought to light what mattered most to Katia and Maurice, and that was love, especially love for volcanoes and for each other. They knew they needed each other to pursue this love. For them, love and death almost went hand in hand.
It’s incredibly touching.
Dosage: So for us, there was the morbidity, but it was also understanding their view of the world, that death wasn’t necessarily the end. They understood that volcanoes were a source of creation and destruction. It’s a great cycle of world reformation, and they were part of it. And so understanding their deaths might cause them to ration their hours, the way they ration their stream of movies, making their lives as meaningful and full of love and spectacle as possible.
Boris: For them, death is not the end. It’s the beginning. It’s the end of their fitness, perhaps, but it’s the beginning of the myth that they’re also very invested in creating their lives. And more importantly, for the sensitivity of nature and the importance of volcanoes, and this endless process of creation and destruction.
It was almost a metaphor for their life.
Boris: One thing that we were aware of putting into the film is that they understood the danger of living so close to the volcano, and being near something that could kill them. But that was not the ultimate concern for them. They knew they were going to die, and that wasn’t what drove them. What drove them was how to live a meaningful life. They have invested so much time and energy in saving human lives. And understand what a human life is capable of. I think you can only come to this understanding if you are prepared for your own death.
Dosage: What was morbid for them was the idea that the other could die. Maurice’s greatest fear is that Katia will be hurt and in agony, and that he won’t be able to save her. Same thing for Katia. Her greatest fear is that Maurice will get lost, driven by his desire to see as much as possible and film as much as possible, and walk in the lava. They cared so much for each other, but they had somehow come to terms with the idea that they themselves could die.
Every time there is a documentary about people living on edge, I realize that they are humans who have such a different relationship to risk than mine in my life. I’m curious, maybe not necessarily as filmmakers, but as people: how has getting to know them through these images changed the way you think about risk yourself?
Dosage: I love this question. Katia and Maurice are profound teachers and guides. They taught me the fear and curiosity that can live behind risk or motivate risk. There is a memorable line in the film where Katia says, “Curiosity is stronger than fear. I have the impression that she does not say that she is not afraid. But she says she sees fear, understands it versus curiosity, and is able to reposition herself from a position of strength to really hold curiosity back — and therefore take risks. I think it’s so powerful.
Boris: I think they show that fear is natural, that the experience of fear is important. It is also very organic. We can assess the risk and be afraid of different things. But then there is the choice of what we do with it. They understood the risks, and then they still tried to go do what they had to do. It’s very different from some kind of madness, to approach something without any sense of understanding.
I find it fascinating to look at this, where the footage is decades old, but it might be even more compelling than anything a drone has captured, or anything advanced technology has captured, of these volcanoes. What can you say about the power of this?
Dosage: Working with 16 millimeters is so tactile. The permanence of it. In the images there is dust from the actual volcanoes where they shot. There are specks of hair that I’m sure belong to them. These things may seem imperceptible on a screen, but, at the same time, they can also be deeply felt. It was also incredibly cumbersome for them to carry this very heavy equipment. The grain just gives it more weight. I don’t want to play this pun. But at the same time, it gives a sense of seriousness and meaning to their pursuit.
Boris: We live in a moment that defies history and does not accept the value of what history has to offer. This film is about geological time, which is history on one of the grandest scales. We were able to tell their story through timeless themes and narratives.
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