In her documentary Fire of Love, director Sara Dosa uses archival footage to explore the lives of married volcanologists, Katia and Maurice Krafft, who perished in a volcano blast in 1991. Dosa’s passion for stories about humans relationship with nature comes through in this project, as well and her deep desire to explore their personal lives. Through footage Maurice and Katia captured themselves, Dosa fully takes us through a love story for the ages. I had a chance to chat with Dosa about what it was like working on this film, how the doc uses animation to fill in gaps, and debating how the the Kraffts really met.
Awards Daily: How did you get interested in Katia and Maurice Krafft’s lives?
Sara Dosa: I first met Katia and Maurice when I was doing research on the last film that I directed. Which is a verite documentary set in Iceland. We wanted to open that film with archival footage of volcanoes erupting in Iceland, and when we started doing the research of who had actually shot erupting volcanoes in Iceland, that’s when we first came across Katia and Maurice. Because not that many people have done that. We were instantly just awed by their footage. But it was really once we started to learn about their story as people and their unique relationship to each other, that’s when we thought there could be a really interesting film here. But I think for me, as a director, I am always drawn to stories about the human relationship to non-human nature, especially when there’s potential for allegory or myth or vehicles to express the sentience and the power of nature. And I got really lucky with volcanoes because there’s arguably nothing more powerful than volcanic force. So I feel like getting to know Katia and Maurice and getting to work with their spectacular imagery was kind of my dream project.
Awards Daily: You have already touched on my second question. I found a quote saying that you like telling “unexpected character-driven stories about human relationship and non-human nature.” Which as you mentioned this film has. What is it about those kinds of stories that interest you?
Sara Dosa: I am endlessly fascinated by how humans make meaning and think to understand the world around them. So on that simple level of the storytelling that can come forth, I am trying to make sense of powerful nature. It is rich with visuals, to say the least. I gravitate to stories that repair a dangerous narrative about the separation between humans and nature. I think that any kind of story that can show the interconnectivity of humans and nature can express the life force all around us. I think those kinds of stories are especially powerful right now as we encounter the climate catastrophe that is upon us all around. That, to me, just feels of political importance aside from just the storytelling richness that I find in this niche of the type of films I like to work with most.
Awards Daily: You’ve also produced several documentaries. What got you interested in that side of filmmaking?
Sara Dosa: I’ve always wanted to work in documentary film, and I was just trying to figure out how I could plug in. I initially wanted to be a cinematographer when I was first starting out, but it was a lot easier to get jobs in the production realm. I was very fortunate to work with some great production companies especially in the Bay Area when I was starting out. For example, actual films based in San Francisco, and I learned a lot about producing by first being their intern, then their office manager, then AP, then producer. But always dreaming of directing, I got to really learn from some great directors as a producer, but I was also directing my own projects on nights and weekends. So producing was kind of my day job, so to speak. But I’m very grateful for all the skills I learned as a producer now in my directing work.
Awards Daily: In Fire of Love, you used animation to fill in some of the gaps in the narrative. What was behind those choices?
Sara Dosa: The archive that Katia and Maurice Krafft shot was absolutely spectacular, but it was very limited. For example, the 16 mm footage didn’t have any synced sound, and I definitely wasn’t using footage of them holding hands, or kissing, or things that speak to a more conventional love story. So we are really trying to think of ways we could communicate the feeling of the whimsy of falling in love. As well as providing some necessary context while at once speaking to the fact that there are limitations. We wanted to be upfront about the fact that we don’t have a complete visual record. Animation became one of the ways to address all of those things.
Katia and Maurice collected thousands of volcano illustrations that dated back to, I believe, the 14th or 15th century. Some of them are actually hanging behind me now. I got hooked in myself. But they were at once kind of scientific and magical, kind of occupying illustrators trying to make sense of this mysterious force and trying to document with the scientific language that was available at those times. But also insert their own interpretations of the unknown.
That aesthetic of science meets almost psychedelic felt really interesting to us and formed the inspiration for those animated sections. So it is really their own archive of collected illustrations that we wanted to bring in in that regard. Also Katia and Maurice met as university students and fell in love over books, dreaming of being in the field together when they couldn’t yet get to. So we thought telling the story of them falling in love in this paper book world felt true and appropriate to their meeting, and it also established a contrast to them being out in the world finally with their cameras getting their own footage. That’s part of what drove that first animated sequence which is by far the most substantial one in the film. We worked with a phenomenal animator named Lucy Munger who does paper cut-out animation so her style felt apt for what we were going for in terms of establishing that research tactile universe.
Awards Daily: Almost all of the film comes from their own footage or from interviews they have given. Was that part of what attracted you to telling their story, or is that just what was available and became a source for you?
Sara Dosa: It was extremely interesting and attractive to our whole team at the beginning. We almost thought of ourselves as geologists of sorts, not to self-aggrandize by any means. I always love to look for the relationship between a story and the form it can take. Thinking about these scientists who had all of these materials that they left behind and their extraordinary life. Footage, words, memories—and we thought, how can we survey these pieces and make sense of them and at once speak to the unknown that we do not have ourselves? So there was something that felt kind of like a form/content relationship was there by getting to work with their own materials. Kinda donning that approach as scientists seeking answers, but dwelling within the space of the unknown. That became important to us and, again, we bumped up against a lot of limitations in the archives, but each time we bumped into one of these limitations, it opened up a new opportunity for a creative way to tell their story.
Awards Daily: There are multiple stories about how they met in the film, but you seem to be particularly taken with the one that was the coffee date. Is that the one you think is real, or was it the one that jumped out at you at the most?
Sara Dosa: It’s the one that, as we say in the film, is the most detailed one. So we decided to go with that because it’s the one we had the most specifics for. It was written in a biography by one of their dear colleagues. There are a lot of flourishes and dialogue that we always wondered, how did he get that dialogue? But it felt very true to the other stories we had heard about them. The other meet-cute moments were not as developed. One came from an interview from I think the mid-’90s from one of their friends that has since passed away, where he says they met at a film screening. The other one comes from another book. But it was important for us to lay out these different ideas to again show that some of the hard facts of their story, no matter how much research we could do, was lost to time.
There is almost a myth-making that happens when you are trying to do research. We actually didn’t want to choose our favorite, we wanted to lay these out and say, here’s what we know but there is so much that we don’t know, and be upfront about that. We wanted the unknowns for us to resonate like the questions Katia and Maurice had about volcanoes. Hoping there is an echo between our own process in a very small way, against their much greater process of them searching for understanding of volcanoes.
Awards Daily: Do you have any future projects coming up, or something you were really interested in pursuing but just haven’t had the time yet?
Sara Dosa: I haven’t dived into the next project just yet. But I’m really inspired by a lot of the themes that I learned about while making Fire of Love. I am fascinated, for example, by geologic time and different conceptions of time. How humans relate to different time scales across our planet, so I’ve got some ideas that are percolating that engage with those themes. But I haven’t started on anything just yet.
Awards Daily: Anything you want to leave our readers with?
Sara Dosa: I think I would just like to shout out my amazing collaborators. This is such a labor of love and a deeply collaborative process. My producers Shane Boris and Ina Fichman, my editors Erin Casper and Jocelyne Chaput and my executive producer at Sandbox Films and our joint with National Geographic Films. I just feel really lucky to have had this wonderful team.
We think of Fire of Love as very much a collage film. All these different textures and mediums coming together make this whole. We really like to talk about our team as everyone brings their different perspectives and skills into this unique process of making Fire of Love. So I couldn’t be more grateful for working together with them and I hope that the joy that we had making the film can resonate.
Along those lines, Katia and Maurice passed away 30 years before we began working on this project. But we always felt that this project was a real co-collaboration with them and every creative choice was generated by thinking, “What would Katia and Maurice do?” Doing research, speaking to their loved ones, their collaborators, really trying to intuit, how would they do this? What would they like? It was an unrequited process because we could never quite ask them the things that we wanted to ask. We really like to always see them as the original source of inspiration. So I just wanted to shout out to them and bring them into this as much as I can.