In Fire Of Love, Sara Dosa documents the life and love of French volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft who spent their days chasing eruptions. They captured their adventures, the highs and the lows (Maurice suffers some serious burns), in charming footage which demonstrates both their knowledge and personalities (they referred to themselves as “the weirdos among the volcanology community"). Unfortunately, their story ended in tragedy, as they lost their lives during a volcanic eruption in 1991 – but director Sara Dosa retells what came before in this moving spectacle pieced together from the Kraffts' own video archive.
We caught up with Dosa to find out what it was that captured her about this story, and how documentary-making changes when you are building a story from incomplete snapshots of people's lives.
What drew you to the Kraffts' archive?
Their imagery stood out though as remarkably different, namely, because of not just how close they get, but you can feel that unmistakable love behind the lens. There's such passion there that you can sense the connection between them and the earth. So that stood out as remarkable, just totally enchanting. But it's really once we learned about them, as people, and their relationship as a married couple, that their individual personalities and characteristics took over. The fact that they're both so funny, and also philosophical, that they took their work so seriously, but not each other.
Why were the Kraffts making these videos?
They really believed that their filmmaking was science. It was a way of capturing the fleeting phenomena that are volcanic eruptions and volcanic phenomena in general. They're able to capture that, which happens in an instant and set it to posterity by recording it. So, it can be studied time and time again. It had tremendous utility for the burgeoning field of volcanology.
The other thing, and I'm not sure how intentional this actually was, but by recording themselves on camera they could tell stories with their imagery. And that was extremely popular, especially in France in the 70s and 80s. It meant they were able to invite so many more people in to understand the Earth to get excited about volcanology and science, and to understand this adventurous life.
For all of the sort of incredible footage and images that they collected, there are obviously gaps in their entire story. How were you able to build an entire film from those snapshots?
It was very challenging. Their archive is spectacular, absolutely beguiling and beautiful, but there was no imprint in the visual record of their actual relationship. So, we really had to hunt for these little scraps of moments between the two of them.
We also interviewed many of their colleagues, friends, and family. They all talked about their relationship, their dynamics and their love, and very much reiterated to us that this love story was truly the guiding force in their lives. That meant we knew we weren't imposing our own agenda on the film; the love story really was authentic and true to them.
But, we thought, how are we going to tell this love story without those specific images? We then realized that volcanoes were their love language, and there's no greater way or more true way to tell that story than by using imagery of erupting volcanoes. So, we tried to use the structure of a classic love story, or mythic love story, as our narrative framework. It meant we could work with imagery of sparks, or geothermal bubbles, to indicate that early feeling of falling in love. And then, of course, it culminates with greater eruptions as the film goes on. So that was really kind of our way of trying to solve for some of those gaps in the archives to get creative with it.
Narration also really helped us to tell the story. At first, we just wanted the film to be guided by their voices and imagery, but we realized if we were going to actually tell a character-driven love story, we needed another narrative vehicle to do so.
Is there anything that you wish you'd known about archival filmmaking before going into it?
I think it's incredibly important to learn about and understand the political and economic dimensionality of working in archive. There's so much that's erased systemically from visual and audio records. Certain things that are preserved. There's kind of the gaze of the camera that needs to be interrogated as the gaze has a way of being depoliticized or just lost to time.
In this film, we were dealing mostly with a personal archive that at once is also scientific data. But it was still fascinating to think about, for example, how Katia showed up in the visual record. She was way less present than Maurice. Some of that was due to the fact that she didn't like being on camera, whereas Maurice was happier to be out front, but it was also due to the sexism of the time. Cameras were way less focused on her when they would appear on television. Maurice would be introduced in this way of like, “oh world famous volcanologist Maurice Krafft… and his wife Katia,” even though it was actually Katia who had seen more active eruptions. So, understanding how power and politics and identity become inscribed is an important consideration when working in archive.
What do you enjoy most about working in documentary filmmaking?
I feel like I absolutely have my dream job working in documentary film. Collaboration lies at the heart of the process, and for me is as meaningful as the people who appear in the film. I always really do think of it as a co-creation with the people we feature, too, an act of dialogue, and how to tell a story that feels born out of a lived experience and myriad cultural realities.
I especially love to explore how humans make meaning with forces of nature, oftentimes through the lens of allegory or cultural languages. And I think at a time when our planet is very much under siege, it's all the more important to share these stories about like the sentience of nature, the aliveness and interconnectivity of it all.
I also just feel joy in the process of making art and working with my team. It’s such a collaborative process and me, my editors, my producers, my executive producers, we all really see the film as a collage film. We see our process as a collage of all our different skill sets and curiosities coming together in this unique form. I feel so grateful to have worked with them. And for their own humor, curiosities, philosophies.
What advice would you give to someone hoping to make it into documentary filmmaking?
Seeking out mentors and building relationships of trust have been so key for me in working my way through the field of documentary. I started out as an assistant and really did climb my way up. And it was incredibly hard, but the relationships I built, the friendships with people who mentored me, got me through. You really need to be community-minded and reciprocal, and these relationships are not just seeing people as utility, these are meaningful long-term relationships. That's the thing that helps me most.
It's such hard work. Such, such hard work – but I think if you really love it, trust yourself and keep at it. I’m getting all emotional thinking about my past, but it really comes down to finding the right people to collaborate with. People who can be good leaders and mentors and also see your potential to move forward.