In “Fire of Love” the off-commentary quotes Maurice and Katia Krafft’s feelings about the risks of their work: exploring and filming volcanoes. “I prefer an intense and short life to a monotonous, long one,” wrote Maurice. Katia acknowledged the danger but said she doesn’t care at all at the moment.
The Kraffts, married French volcanologists, were killed on June 3, 1991 while watching an eruption of Mount Unzen in Japan. But the stunning 16mm footage they’ve shot throughout their career – filled with bubbling lava, flying rocks and huge plumes of smoke – lives on in the new Fire of Love, a fully archival documentary made up of around 200 hours of their Materials have been compiled along with 50 hours of TV appearances and other clips.
“I have so many questions I wish I could have asked them in person, and one of them is which roles didn’t make it,” Sara Dosa, the documentary’s director, said during an interview in Tribeca last month. After all, visiting volcanoes comes with dangers. The film tells of Maurice scalding his leg in boiling mud and shows him playfully testing Katia’s helmet by throwing a rock at her head. Dosa said they “didn’t use a funny image of Maurice taking his molten boot and throwing it into a lava flow.” It can be assumed that not all of the couple’s film equipment survived either.
But “Fire of Love” isn’t just about the Kraffts’ time in the field; it is also about her life and her marriage. Dosa, who found out about the couple while researching for a previous documentary, described her film as a love triangle between Maurice, Katia and the volcanoes.
The film tries to stay true to them – “we always wanted to start with Katia and Maurice first and foremost,” Dosa says – while maintaining a certain critical distance. Voiceover by Miranda July sometimes expands and complicates the Kraffts’ descriptions, contradicting, for example, Maurice’s claim that he is “not a filmmaker” but merely “a wandering volcanologist who is compelled to make films in order to hike.” The couple – short-haired, bespectacled Katia; the bushy, garrulous Maurice – traveled the world lecturing and screening films. Even today, they enjoy a certain degree of world fame, not least thanks to their many books and TV appearances.
“We also wanted to examine how they create their own image,” Dosa said. “They seemed to understand that their public image helped them continue living the life they wanted to live. They performed versions of themselves, not in a way that was at all inauthentic – it almost seemed like this higher truth of who Katia and Maurice were.”
Bertrand Krafft, Maurice’s older brother, now 82, maintained the footage after the couple’s deaths. “My parents didn’t know anything about photography and cinema, and neither did Katia’s parents,” he said through an interpreter over the phone. “Someone had to take over the management of the fortune that Maurice and Katia left behind and I was the only person available to do that.”
Bertrand has given permission to use Maurice and Katia’s images in other documentaries. Indeed, another feature film using the Kraffts’ material, The Fire Within: Requiem for Katia and Maurice Krafft, directed by Werner Herzog, premiered at the Sheffield Doc/Fest in the UK on June 26th Film, on which he has contributed the most over the years has been Dosa’s. “Their ideas, their approach to the project struck me as excellent,” he said. “That’s why I did everything I could to help her.”
The footage included fully completed films and working materials, both edited and unedited, according to Mathieu Rousseau of Image’Est, the French archive that had preserved the Krafft collection of 800 rolls of film and 300,000 slides. (Bertrand Krafft sold the material to the Geneva company Titan Film after the documentary began.)
“What was complicated in the beginning, and also when we had to digitize everything for Sara to shoot her film, was that we had to figure out what Maurice had done,” Rousseau said during an interview through an interpreter video call. Maurice, he noted, “did the editing himself. He had his own logic.”
Dosa and her editors also had to understand the hundreds of hours of footage. Jocelyne Chaput, one of the editors of Fire of Love, said that on some reels, “I got the impression that someone swept the cutting room floor of Maurice’s house and then put it all back together, and that was that reel. Erin Casper, the other editor, said it was also difficult to make sure they stayed accurate — with footage that was loosely arranged geographically, but not necessarily chronologically.
Also, none of the Kraffts’ 16mm recordings had sound; For example, all the audio of churning lava had to be added. The finished version of Fire of Love draws on a mix of Foley effects and a library of field recordings accumulated over 30 years, according to sound designer Patrice LeBlanc. The use of sound would not have been alien to either Katia or Maurice, Chaput and Casper suggested: some of the Kraffts’ films used sound effects or voice-overs, or ran while Maurice was lecturing.
Ken Hon, the lead scientist at the United States Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, had known of the Kraffts since the late 1980s and recalls that filming volcanoes was unusual at the time.
“There wasn’t a lot of footage of volcanic eruptions back then, and certainly not up close,” he said. “You had to be a volcanologist to film like them because you had to be able to point the camera at the right thing to understand the process that’s going on.” Nowadays, such shots are easier and cheaper thanks to equipment much more often. Maurice, he said, “would be so in love with drones right now.”
As the Kraffts traveled around Hawaii, Hon recalled, he sometimes accompanied them into closed areas, like the town of Kalapana when it was inundated by lava in 1990.
Filming “was like second nature to her,” he said. “They set up cameras and keep talking,” not pausing to say, “Stop, I gotta focus, I gotta focus.” Hon had a certain appreciation for the challenges the Kraffts faced: He helped his wife and volcanologist Cheryl Gansecki, making videos for about 20 years.
“High temperatures, it’s usually wet and that’s where the acidic gas comes from the volcanoes, right?” he said. “The combination of these things is exactly what they tell you not to submerge your electronic device.”
Steven Brantley, a volcanologist who retired after 37 years with the Geological Survey but has returned part-time, said even if the Kraffts’ footage might make it appear they were in danger, they “positioned the camera that way.” that you could walk in front of it and live to tell the story over and over again,” he said. “In that sense, I think they’ve been very careful, even though it might not seem like they were.”
Hon didn’t think the Kraffts were careless either. “The kind of eruption that caught them in ounces, the dome-forming eruptions with collapses and small explosions and stuff, those are the most dangerous types of eruptions because they’re so unpredictable,” he said.
The New York Times reported at the time that the pair and another volcanologist, Harry Glicken, who died with them, “had no chance of escaping as the pyroclastic flow tumbled down the slope from the main crater two miles away at an estimated speed of 100 to 100 miles.” 125mph”
Brantley has never worked with the Kraffts on site, but was working with Maurice on a volcanic hazards video that was almost finished when Maurice died. Portions of it were checked in time to warn Filipino residents of Mount Pinatubo erupting less than two weeks later. Brantley emphasized that educating the public about volcanoes is as much a part of the Kraffts’ legacy as their amazing footage.
Herzog said through a rep just ahead of the premiere of his own Krafft film that he hadn’t seen “The Fire of Love” but hoped to see it “in a theater in the next few weeks.”
The possible coincidence of two Krafft films reminded Hon of the overlapping releases of Dante’s Peak and Volcano in 1997. That’s the way volcano films should be, he suggested. “We don’t do them right away,” he said. “We always make a pair.”