Fire of Love

February 22, 2023

The story of French volcanologists, husband-and-wife team Maurice and Katia Krafft, as portrayed in the new documentary Fire of Love, is as potent a genuine love story as it is a depiction of scientists wholly dedicated to their passion of chasing live volcanoes. Told nearly entirely with archival footage and narration, Fire of Love, as a dramatic story, was discovered by the filmmakers throughout copious research and the edit.

Initially, director Sara Dosa (The Seer and The Unseen) found the tale of the Kraffts while searching for archival imagery of erupting volcanoes in Iceland. “That’s how we first came across Katia and Maurice – not that many people had filmed erupting volcanoes in Iceland,” Dosa recalls.

“We immediately saw that their footage was spectacular, but it was really once we started to learn about them as people that we thought, ‘There’s a film here.’” Given that the Kraffts were a married couple, obsessed with the earth, and clearly in love with each other, Dosa determined to fashion a full film about them. “They seemed like characters out of a myth, and, for me, as a filmmaker, I’m fascinated by myth and allegory, and, specifically, how myth and allegory can provide a language for exploring the power of the naturalworld,” Dosa reveals.

The totality of Fire of Love’s material includes 250 hours of 16mm footage shot by the Kraffts, plus archival footage of them on variety shows, news programs and educational series in their native France. In order to sculpt the material into a finished piece, Dosa reviewed every minute with the project’s two editors, Erin Casper and Jocelyne Chaput. Though it was an incredible challenge given the mountain of material to view, Dosa notes that it was also a profound gift. “We were making this film during the pandemic,” Dosa explains. “We first started getting the archival imagery in late summer and fall of 2020.

I was on lockdown at the time, living in a little apartment in San Francisco and getting to travel the world through Katia and Maurice’s beguiling imagery.” Every day during that period, Dosa was corresponding and talking with her editors, moving to working in person by mid2021. What became apparent was that Fire of Love emerged as a love triangle between two humans and an elemental force in volcanoes. “We always looked to Katia and Maurice as our north star of navigating all of the footage, the aesthetics and the overall narrative structure,” Dosa divulges. “They were very much our guides for every decision in the film. I really do  believe you can make a hundred films out of the footage that they left behind – and their epic story.”

To provide background on the story told by the Krafft through their filmed research and volcanic events, Dosa interviewed many of the Kraffts’ colleagues, friends and surviving family members. “They all emphasized that love was absolutely at the heart of everything they did,” Dosa states.

“That was a useful structuring device for us. We looked to a lot of films that had a love triangle at [their] center, and those served as maps for us; a lot of those happened to be French New Wave films.”

In assembling the visual material, archival researcher Nancy Marcotte, based in Montreal, helped compile usable footage, licensed by producer Ina Fichman. The film took 18 months to conceive and create, aided by the editors’ creativity – each is a co-writer of Fire of Love’s script.

“The writing process we did very collaboratively with Erin and Jocelyne, and our other producer, Shane Boris,” says Dosa. “Very early on, we realized that the footage was so spectacular, but it was incredibly limited specifically regarding the visual representation of what many humans might consider a love story. There’s no footage of Katia and Maurice’s holding handsor kissing, or on dates, but there was profound love being communicated in every shot – just not necessarily the humancentric version. We needed another narrative device in order to give context to their tremendous adventures, as well as the relationship dynamics.”

They determined that a subjective and playful narrator could be the right vehicle to communicate Fire of Love’s central love  story. “It was really challenging for us because we were always balancing between ‘what you give to the ear, you take away from the eye,’ or ‘what you give to the eye, you take away from the ear,’” Dosa details. “At first the writing was very expository, but it was not at all a story, so we restructured things and paired down the narration tremendously to find a much more inquisitive voice.”

By May 2021, the edit of Fire of Love began in earnest. Dosa had worked with Casper previously, while Chaput was newer to the production group. “As a director, the thing I probably did most and consistently throughout was coming up with thinitial vision for the film,” Dosa confesses. “There’s so many different ways we could have interpreted the story, and I was particularly inspired by this idea of a love triangle. Once I got to brainstorming and started doing a lot of writing and researching,

I came up with a treatment and a ‘look book’ that served as our map for how to think about the film. I wanted to put a special emphasis on the humanity within the enormity of this geologic story. Their footage truly taught me how to see the earth in a radically different way. So much of that was about their pursuit of understanding amid the vastness of the unknown.”

According to Casper, the editing Fire of Love was made easier because the mass of verité footage was ‘observationally shot.’ “Archival footage is left to someone else’s whims,” Casper declares, in contrast to the Kraffts’ personal 16mm filmed material. “We had no synced sound; it was beautiful footage. For a second we thought maybe we could just cut without any sound; we’ll just cut visually because we would collaboratively write paper edits.

“Pretty quickly we found that we wouldn’t be able to work without sound; it’s just such an important part of the storytelling process. We had a lot of fun constructing entire soundscapes for the film and searching for music, selecting those tracks to build the emotional heart of the story.”

Despite this overwhelming archive, Chaput explains how Dosa’s narrative outline “really allowed us to hit the ground running.” She says, “Over time, as we discovered limitations to the archive or developed new ideas, the outline changed, but a lot of it really helped us focus and arrive at places that we would not have arrived at otherwise. The outline is still fundamentally in the film that you see now.”

The decision to add a voiceover narration emerged in the edit. Casper explains, “Even in documentary films [which] don’t necessarily have narration, the editor is a writer. You’re writing a screenplay with footage – it is a writer’s role, and every facet of documentary editing is writing: You’re writing with sound, you’re writing with images. To me, it’s a no-brainer that we would be considered writers on this film. Of course, [Fire of Love’s] narration was a very collaborative process.”

According to Casper, Dosa planned to craft the film without narration but it quickly became evident that it was the best tool to allow them to fill gaps that had no other way of being expressed. “The narration started out almost as scaffolding, and then, over time, we developed more of the voice of it – to make sense of the story, and to glue together pieces and have a through line,” she says.

“As we were editing, Jocelyne and I were shaping the early drafts [of the narrative script]. Maurice and Katia were not wasteful – they didn’t just keep rolling and rolling and rolling. Even the length of the shots really dictated a certain economy in our narration writing. What it forced us to do was find the most precise way, poetic way, of moving the story forward, and then we figured out the right shot for that. Sometimes, the shot would inform the writing, so you’re always going back and forth, but it really felt like you were walking across the bridge that you were building at the same time, plank by plank.

Ultimately, Casper and Chaput had the opposite problem of  a typical first assembly, in that their first cut of Fire of Love was an hour and 20 minutes. “Normally, at a certain point, you’re whittling down,” says Casper. “But this was very much the opposite direction – building up. That presents its own challenge because things were so tightly interwoven that, in order to add a scene, it would have ripple effects across really tightly-constructed sequences and scenes. In order to do that, it would really be a big deal to add new scenes in between things, because it meant you had to rewrite the narration.”

The team were constantly screening each other’s edits, tracking how things were coming together and questioning whether certain shots needed to be kept or removed. “As incredible as much of the material was, in terms of the narrative thrust of the film, it might be too much of a pit stop. We had this fun vernacular: ‘eruption fatigue’ and ‘expedition fatigue.’ ‘We’re not just going to go to the next volcano here – we need to do something else.’ We were just always aware of whether a scene would work or not, like a plank on the bridge. All our edits never went far past the 90-minute run time.”

Casper says, “We were digging through this giant haystack made of a million little needles – every shot and every soundeffect. Searching for every  sound effect, every music track, every line of narration felt like a win. For that reason, our editing, out of the gate, was pretty refined. There’s a part of me that misses those [excised] scenes because they really hold together on their own.”

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