Documentary filmmaker Sara Dosa spoke with Solzy at the Movies about Fire of Love, a new volcanic love story about Katia and Maurice Krafft.
National Geographic Documentary Films acquired Fire of Love out of Sundance and started the theatrical run on July 6, 2022. The film is slowly expanding across the nation. You can check out the theatrical listings on the official Fire of Love site to find out when it will be playing at a theater near you.
What was it about this volcanic love story that drew your interest in wanting to make the film?
Sara Dosa: There’s so many things that drew me in and wanting to make the film. First, I learned about just how spectacular the imagery was that Katia and Maurice shot. But once I learned about them as people, how philosophical they were, how playful they were, how hilarious, how talented as well as how bold, the fact that they lived their life in this profound way, I was so drawn in and I was captivated by them. I was also fascinated by their unique relationship with the planet. We really understood their story as a love triangle. It was a love story between Katia and Maurice’s and volcanoes, all three forces together. That to us felt like a meaningful way to engage with an archival story and tell a story about the human relationship to the natural world.
Going into Sundance this year, I went on a heavy binge of disaster movies. I found this film to be a very different film from the classic Hollywood disaster movie but compelling nonetheless. It’s interesting to learn about the Kraffts because I hadn’t known about them before watching the movie. When I think of France and things like that, Jacques Cousteau is the one who comes to mind.
Sara Dosa: That’s something we always wondered about, why the Kraffts didn’t necessarily reach the same international notoriety as Jacques Cousteau. They certainly were celebrities in France in the 70s and 80s and continue to be. We were so lucky that their visual imprint that they made was something that we embraced in our own storytelling. We really worked with two main buckets of footage. There’s the 16 millimeter footage that they themselves shot as well as then the other bucket being the footage of them on television programs, variety shows, radio broadcasts, and whatnot, since they were celebrities of their day. But getting to access that, we really got to see how playful they were with each other, their talking points on these TV shows, as well as their expertise as scientists for the public. We were baffled about why they weren’t more well known in the United States or elsewhere. It’s my hope now that people can meet them again through their own footage and through the vehicle that is now our film.
With so much footage at your hands, how challenging was it to get it down to 90 minutes and change?
Sara Dosa: It was very challenging to get it down to 90 minutes. I would say we absolutely loved watching all of it though. My two fabulous editors, Erin Casper and Jocelyn Chaput, and I, we really watched everything and it was such a joy. We found ourselves in that process of like, this is so beautiful—we have to have this in the film but we can’t because there’s only so much time and space. But the fact that we knew very early on, we wanted to tell a love story, that helped us to narrow that focus. I really believe you can tell hundreds of films with what they left behind, not just in their footage and their photography but also in the writings because they wrote nearly 20 books, too.
But for us, early on, we came across a sentence that Maurice wrote where he said, For me, Katia and volcanoes, it is a love story. For us, we thought okay, this, this is really going to be our thesis. We thought if we could take everything we were learning about them, guided first and foremost by them and their story in an authentic way and sculpt the narrative around that of a love triangle that would help us to focus in on what kind of additional material we can use since there’s so many limitations though. For example, there’s no footage of them doing things that weren’t associated with the love story—no footage of them kissing, no footage of them on dates, none of them holding hands, things like that. We really realized it’s actually imagery of volcanoes that was the truest representation of their love. We started out at the beginning using imagery more of bubbling lava, sparking lava, and then culminating into these grandiose explosions as they’re fully into their relationship and into their love. In that way, volcanoes were their love language. That opened up a lot of play as well as helped to shape and guide the process in narrowing down just epic amounts of footage that that we were excavating and parsing through.
A volcano really isn’t the first place I would think of for having romantic picnic.
Sara Dosa: (Laughs) Yeah, I agree with you. But yeah, they were unlike other people, that’s for sure. Yeah, their idiosyncratic nature was really fun for us to get to explore and to learn about.
How long was the initial cut?
Sara Dosa: Our first cut, we had an assembly that was actually about two hours and 10 minutes, which wasn’t all that long. It’s been fluctuated between—we had an 86 minute cut and then we had a 97 minute cut, but it fluctuated through that length for the rest of the edit. We felt like our editorial process was more about construction rather than whittling away. In the past films I’ve done, they’ve largely been vérité films where we felt like we were chipping away at a story. Whereas here, there’s so much writing that we were writing out scenes—we were really collaging this archive from that. The length didn’t necessarily fluctuate as much but the imagery did. There were a lot of things that we were very sad to leave on the cutting room floor, as well as some things that kind of remained the same from the very beginning.
What challenges did the pandemic bring about?
Sara Dosa: The pandemic was a great muse and anti-muse all at once for this film. The film wouldn’t exist actually without the pandemic. One of my producers, Shane Boris, and I, as well one of my editors, Erin Casper, were working on a different film. We were in development on a project that was going to be an observational film shot in northwest Siberia prior to the pandemic. However, when COVID-19 hit, that project collapsed and we found ourselves in isolation. We thought, how wonderful would it be if we could find an archival project that didn’t require any new production. That’s when we were reminded of Katia and Maurice Krafft, which we had actually learned about through research on that film that we had just completed—a film that’s all shot in Iceland called The Seer and the Unseen.
We very quickly found that Katia and Maurice’s story was such a refuge during such a tumultuous and uncertain time. First of all, we got to travel the world through their imagery, when we were so isolated was such a self and an inspiration, so transformative when we were so stuck. Also, the fact that they reconciled fear. They could navigate through the unknown. Things like that meant so much to us as we were grappling with our own losses, uncertainties, and fears as the pandemic continued to unfold. That turned into an inspiration for us. We were doing research on our own about philosophies of life, what it meant to navigate the unknown, reading a lot about love and loss, things like that also helped to infuse our perspectives as we went about the process of making the film, too.
In that way, yeah, the pandemic was immensely challenging. Some of the perspective of the film wouldn’t be what it is now if it wasn’t for those challenges in that time. Of course, I longed to go to France and I couldn’t. I wanted to go to the archival house and look through all of the reels myself. I wanted to be in person with their collaborators and Maurice’s brother, Bertrand. Luckily, I did get to do that in October of 2021. But in the early days, things that I desired, but I couldn’t do because of the pandemic and that made it so challenging.
Luckily, Erin lives in New York. Jocelyn lived in Berkeley, where I’m based. Ina, one of our producers, is based in Montreal, and Shane is in Los Angeles. Our core creative team, we are all in different places but Erin ended up basically moving in with me. Jocelyn was just up the hill and Shane moved in with me, too. The bulk of the creative work, especially the four of us all wrote the narration together—we called it our clubhouse. Basically, we’re up all night working with imagery together. It was a deeply collaborative process and the pandemic allowed us to form our own little pod and so we were working very closely together. That’s something that at first seemed impossible, but we decided, okay, we’re gonna do this. It made such a difference in the actual process of making the film.
It’s my understanding that Clive Oppenheimer was an advisor to the film. How did the film benefit from his advice?
Sara Dosa: Clive actually was not just an advisor; he was an early inspiration for the film. I had first learned about them when we were researching volcano archives for that for the last film that I did, where some volcano archives appear. I was invited to participate in a workshop that was hosted by Sandbox Films and the Sundance Institute in 2018. The goal of that workshop was to bring together filmmakers and scientists. They were hoping that the scientists would explain their work and inspire the filmmakers to make films about their science. Likewise, they hoped that the storytelling skills that the filmmakers showcase could inspire the scientists in their own work.
I knew about the Kraffts but hadn’t been actively biting or working on Fire of Love but Clive was one of the scientists part of that workshop. We met and became fast friends. I asked him about Katia and Maurice. He had met them and told me stories about them so that very much was one of those marks is like, okay, this could be a film I want to do one day. I was just so in awe of his own way, his life philosophies, how he chose to live, who he was as a person. I’ll just say he was such an initial important inspiration that made me think I want to just dwell in this world of volcanologists and volcanology. It seems so meaningful and also just spectacular and beautiful. He became an early sounding board, once we decided this is a project we want to do. He helped introduce us to various people in the Kraffts’ world. He would answer all kinds of questions I had about not just science, but also just what it means to grapple with these geologic forces amid human questions of existence. He really became a friend to us through the process. I got to watch the film with him in London at Sundance London and it was really amazing to—he’d seen it before, of course, but he hadn’t seen it on a big screen yet. It was really fun to be with him at that moment, knowing just how he had been part of the journey all the way through.
How disappointing was it to lose out on the in-person premiere in during Sundance in January?
Sara Dosa: It was a blow for our team, for sure, mostly because I feel so lucky to have experienced the magic that is the Sundance Film Festival before in films that I had produced and had shown there. But more than anything, I just wanted to be with my team celebrating. It was such a tremendous team effort for my producers and editors, my executive producers at Sandbox Films. We all worked so hard and so collaboratively together that having this moment of joy together where we can celebrate Katia and Maurice first and foremost in a public setting. That’s what we were hoping for. The fact that that didn’t happen in Park City was a sad choice but very generously, Sandbox Films found a way for us to gather safely so we can still be together and have that group moment where we—when I was in France, and I met Bertrand Krafft, Maurice’s brother. He gave me a bottle of wine from their family’s vineyard and we got to break that open and toast to Katia and Maurice. That, for me, it was just like, we’re all getting to do this. We’re celebrating them all together so that felt very meaningful. But yeah, I feel lucky for the things that came out of the Sundance platform, regardless. For example, my parents got to see the film on their TV in Oakland, California, when they couldn’t travel to Park City. The digital festival did afford all kinds of things, more accessibility for people, and I’m very grateful for that. I’m also so grateful that we had a fantastic experience with National Geographic Documentary Films coming aboard the project at Sundance, even though we weren’t on the snowy mountain altogether ourselves.
Outside of your own film, do you have a favorite movie that deals with volcanoes?
Sara Dosa: Wow, that’s a great question! Favorite movie that deals with volcanoes? I so love Katia and Maurice’s volcano footage, their own movies themselves. I think haven’t watched a lot of—I haven’t actually seen Dante’s Peak or Volcano, the one with Tommy Lee Jones from the 90s. We always joked that we would watch that at some wrap party. I loved a Werner Herzog film from the 1970s called La Soufrière about the eruption that didn’t happen in the Caribbean. I’m trying to think of other ones. Yeah, I don’t know, actually.
I noticed where you were a co-producer of An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power in 2018. Do you think we’re reaching this era where there’s going to be more documentaries about the climate crisis?
Sara Dosa: I think so. I definitely learned so much and making that film. I feel like there’s been tremendous work being done to add imagery about the climate crisis to public discourse for a very long time. I feel like there’s very different modes of storytelling about the climate crisis, and we’re so in it. We have been in it for a while but I do feel like every summer in North America, we’re very much hit with new presentations of just how terrifying and real it is. I’m sure that there’s going to be more and more. I very much hope that the new modes of storytelling that come forth from this moment can break some new ground in terms of public policy and shift public engagement. It’s so macabre and terrifying, what we’re experiencing right now.
National Geographic Documentary Films released Fire of Love on July 6, 2022. The film is currently expanding across the country.
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