Sara Dosa (‘Fire of Love’): I was ‘utterly inspired’ by Katia and Maurice’s love story [Complete Interview Transcript]

Oscar-nominated director/writer/producer Sara Dosa recently pulled back the curtains on “Fire of Love,” inviting Gold Derby’s Denton Davidson in for a glimpse of how the National Geographic documentary was conceived. “There’s many reasons why I wanted to tell this story,” she tells us. But ultimately it came down to her being “utterly inspired” by the love story between real-life volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft. “They were so in love with volcanoes, and so beguiled and enchanted by the force,” she reveals.

“Fire of Love” has been nominated by multiple awards groups this season in the Best Documentary Feature category, including the Oscars, BAFTAs, Critics Choice, Directors Guild, Producers Guild and our own Gold Derby Awards. “It was a great experience,” Dosa tells us about making the project, which was filmed at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Watch the full video above and read the complete interview transcript below.

Denton Davidson: I’m Denton Davidson for Gold Derby here with Sara Dosa, director of Nat Geo’s “Fire of Love” and Sara, this film’s about volcanoes, science, and of course, love, hence the title, between Katia and Maurice Krafft, volcanologists, who died in a volcano explosion during the very thing that brought them together which was sort of unraveling these mysteries of volcanoes and capturing how explosive they were. And I’m just… I would love for you to tell us why you wanted to tell this story and share it with as many people as possible.

Sara Dosa: Yeah, there’s many reasons why I wanted to tell this story, along with my team. But I think I was just utterly inspired by how Katia and Maurice led their life. They were so in love with volcanoes, and so beguiled and enchanted by the force, the, the magnitude, the power of nature. They weren’t deterred by the danger of that. Instead, the danger of their love kind of animated their lives, in a way. They were able to kind of pull into focus what was most meaningful to them and that was scientific inquiry, that was living a meaningful life, and that was being with each other.

So, they really inspired me. You know, of course they had just tremendous richness of their materials that they shot spending nearly 20 years filming volcanoes. But it was really how they lived their lives and the philosophy that they enacted in their day to day that really drew us to the story and is something that myself and my team, I think, will forever take with ourselves.

DD: And I think it was Maurice who said at one point that he would prefer to die, I, or live a shorter life doing this than live a longer one not doing what he loved. Um, how did you, you know, come upon their story and how did you learn about them in the first place?

SD: Yeah, I first learned about Katia and Maurice, actually, when I was doing research for the last film, I directed which was a film called the Seer and the Unseen. That film takes place in Iceland and it’s a documentary that follows the story of an Icelandic woman named Ragnhildur Jonsdottir who is in communication with spirits of nature. Iceland is a volcanic island and we wanted to open that film with archival footage of erupting volcanoes to kind of show how Iceland was formed. So once we started doing research on erupting volcanoes specifically, archival footage of erupting volcanoes we came across Katia and Maurice Krafft because not that many people (laughs) had done that.

We were absolutely enthralled just by the imagery. You know, how they shot volcanoes. There was something paradigmatically different about it. You know, you could really sense how close they were. And just like the love behind the frame. But it was once we learned about them as characters and specifically that they were, you know, a married couple, that they were so in love with each other and the earth, we though, “Okay. We want to dwell in their world. We, want to learn more about them.” And then, of course, we found out that they had this extraordinary archive and that really got us excited to, to make this film.

DD: It’s an archive of thousands of hours of footage and photos. So, how do you even begin, as a filmmaker, to go through that and piece together what you want to show because that would just be for me, that would feel very overwhelming to me.

SD: Yeah. For us, we were working with about 250 hours of footage. There was about 200 or so of 16-millimeter footage that Katia and Maurice shot over their about 20-year career and then there was about 50 hours of Katia and Maurice, appearing, on television programs largely in France and Belgium and Switzerland in the 70s and 80s. So those were kind of the two buckets that we were working with.

I had two phenomenal editors, Erin Casper and Jocelyne Chaput and they and I, and my producers, Shane Boris and Ina Fichman, we, very collaboratively kind of watched everything. We kind of couldn’t help ourselves to be honest (laughs). It was so beautiful that we wanted to (laughs). And it was essential for the story, you know, that, that we get every little detail along with just, like, the vastness of, of their work.

But it was essential for us to tell the story as a love story, or more specifically a love triangle. That helped us to kind of narrow the focus. That was because there was a sentence in a book that Maurice actually wrote where he said, “For me, Katia and volcanoes, it is a love story.” And, and with that sentence we really felt like Maurice was giving us the thesis to their lives. So, that really helped to shape kind of what we used and how, um…

It was quite difficult because there’s not a lot of the classic imagery that people associate with a love story. You know, no footage of Katia and Maurice kissing or holding hands or going out on dates or anything like that. But we realized, actually, that imagery of volcanoes more aptly expressed the power of their love than any image of, of humans doing kind of conventional, you know, PDA ever could. So, we found a real truth in their own kind of hearts and minds in the images that they captured themselves and, and really tried to integrate that into how we told their story.

DD: And some of those images go back to as far as the 60s, I believe. So, I mean, does… Is that something that you have to restore or where were they being held in such good shape that allowed you to make such an incredible film with such old footage?

SD: Well, thank you, for those kind words. The footage that Katia and Maurice had shot existed, uh, when we came to, to the story at an archival facility in Nancy, France called Image’est. Bertrand Krafft who is Maurice’s older brother, he had kind of stewarded their archive throughout the years and it changed hands to different facilities, from time to time. But Image’est, when we came to it just took wonderful care of the footage. They, they had all of the reels, you know, in their tins, you know, it was climate controlled. It was very well organized. You could realize sense the love that, that the people there had, for the footage and for them, it was kind of like the, the prized jewels in a way of their entire collection. They knew it very well and they did an amazing job working with us.

I should say we made this film during the pandemic. We started it in July of 2020 and that was during lockdown so we weren’t able to go to France ourselves. But Image’est would, uh, scan the footage for us, send it in batches of about 20 hours at a time over an FTP site for us to download and then it was just incredible. We got to, uh, really kind of take refuge from the fear and uncertainty of our turbulent times in their imagery and get to travel the world during such a time of lockdown.

So, it was a great experience, you know and there were those challenges of not being able to be there in person but yeah. We figured it out in a way that, worked and, and I’m really grateful for in the long run.

DD: I’m curious how Katia and Maurice themselves got some of this footage because some of it is just unbelievable and the areal stuff, I mean, it looks like it would be taken with a drone now. So, did, did they work in… Did they have teams come with them a lot of the time, or, d- did they sometimes go alone and sometimes have teams or what was that dynamic?

SD: Yeah, so when Katia and Maurice first started out, they were kind of in a pack. In a group that they called which means the, the volcano team. And it was a group of, kind of, not just field scientists but also people who wanted to come along and support. You know, cooks. Uh, porters. Uh, you know navigators. Just, it was kind of their motley crew of impassioned friends who wanted to support this work and including cinematographers. One of their close friends, a man named Roland Haas was actually kind of their main cinematographer when they were first starting out.

But gradually the lifestyle wore on everybody in the group and people started to, pair off, to have families, and decide that this roving volcanologist life was, not for them so it really became Katia and Maurice. They, at times, would bring other cinematographers here and there. But the two of them were kind of, they’re the ones kind of driving the, the imagery.

They so committed to this unique lifestyle where they wanted to, in their own words, like, live by the rhythms of the earth. So, they had friends, like, all over the world who would call them and say, “Hey, there’s major seismic activity happening, you know, here in Japan. Get over here as fast as you can.” And so, they would, you know, do everything they could to, to fly to Japan, and get there. But, that was very difficult for other people. But since they set themselves up in this unique way, they were able to, to be there for those moments.

But they also did just possess such boldness. They reconciled fear and kind of understood the relationship to fear in motivating their life’s quest. So, that enabled them to get that kind of imagery that you see in the film that’s just so incredibly close up. And the shots that are in the film, those are all helicopter shots. Um, (laughs), they loved, they loved riding helicopters but once of Maurice’s friends who’s still with us today, he’s a volcanologist based in Hawaii, and he says that if Maurice were still with us, he would love drones. So, that’s something that I just personally find entertaining.

I’ll just say, I think that their, facility with the technology as well as just their utter passion, really, kind of enabled them to, to get that footage that you see in the film.

DD: And in putting themselves in harm’s way, it’s estimated they saved tens of thousands of, of lives, potentially. So, you know, now that you’ve gone through this process, what do you think the legacy ultimately is of Katia and Maurice?

SD: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think that their legacy, is quite an expansive one. Um, but I, I do think that they particularly, as, as you mentioned, they, they saved so many lives by being the skilled science communicators and cinematographers that they, they were. It was so essential to them, once they saw, kind of the, the damage, you know, the catastrophic damage that volcanoes reap on, on human lives. Most specifically in 1985 at the Nevado del Ruiz eruption in Colombia where they witnessed nearly 25,000 people, dying due to the lack of, warning systems being implemented and, and some, some, I’m trying to find the right words but some, some horrific (laughs) decision making on, on part of the government there. They really thought that they could use their, their imagery to, to convince governments, decision makers, to evacuate. To implement systems that could, uh, cause people to listen to the science rather than to, prioritize political or economic decisions ahead of that. Um, and by doing so, you know, they were able to make these videos that went on to convince people and, that did help to, enable evacuations at the right moments. So, I, I think that’s a powerful legacy for sure.

Another one I would say is just the, the kind of the poetry of their imagery I think will inspire many people’s um… I’ve heard so many stories of, scientists today who have said, “You know, I saw Katia and Maurice’s images as a child in a coffee book that my parents had and that made me wanna go into earth sciences.” Or, other women specifically saying, like, “I didn’t have many role models for geoscientists growing up but I knew of Katia’s story and that made me think that, you know, I had a role model there. A north, a north star.”

So I, I’m hopeful that, it’s not just about kind of saving lives what with the how they’re able to communicate that but also there’s like that inspiration for getting people to fall in love with the planet and, with science as well.

DD: Well, such a unique story and, amazing imagery, that they captured and that you’ve been able to put together in this film. So congratulations on, your film and good luck with everything moving forward.

SD: Thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

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