Why Sundance Breakout Fire of Love Isn’t Like Any Other True Romance
Sara Dosa guides IndieWire through the process of constructing a portrait of married field volcanologists that explores both the mystery of volcanoes and the human heart.
Last January, filmmaker Sara Dosa’s opening night documentary “Fire of Love” blew up at Sundance. When the filmmakers discovered – just weeks before their world premiere – that the festival was going virtual, vendor Submarine held live screenings for buyers, who were ready to bid when notices rolled in. delirium, Oscar talk, and the festival’s first big sale, to Oscar-friendly distributors NatGeo (“Free Solo”) and Neon (“Parasite”). And at the end of the festival, Dosa’s third non-fiction feature won the Sundance Jonathan Oppenheim Editing Award for US Documentary.
“Fire of Love” is unlike anything else. This quirky collage of creative documentary, romance and science non-fiction eschews many documentary conventions as it follows two red-cheeked French volcanologists, Katia and Maurice Krafft, who are in love with not only one of the another, but also of their work. volcanoes around the world. “We just did it the way we thought it should be done,” writer-producer Shane Boris told IndieWire. “We were in our own vacuum, sort of.”
Dosa came across the Krafft’s extraordinary 16mm archive at Image’ Est while researching volcano footage for her film “The Seer and the Unseen.” An anthropologist by training, Dosa met Werner Herzog’s collaborator, renowned volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer, during a workshop at Sundance. Herzog and Oppenheimer had used shots from the Krafft archives in “Into the Inferno”. (Oppenheimer served as scientific advisor for “Fire of Love.”) Gradually, during the pandemic, Image’ Est sent Dosa 200 hours of digitized footage without sync sound that hadn’t been seen in 30 years.
To deliver their poetic, lyrical and whimsical storytelling, the filmmakers cast the multi-hyphenated Miranda July, who often read passages from Katia’s books to lend more of her voice, as Maurice tended to act as a media spokesperson. of the couple, who were celebrities in France. “We were all so drawn to how Miranda communicates intimacy and the strange familiarity of relationships,” Dosa said. “Once we recorded with her, she brought such richness and depth and a loving curiosity.”
Figuring out the narration was a group effort with Dosa, Boris and the editing team. “We thought one of the roles of a narrator might be to help us fill in the gaps not just with answers, but with questions,” Boris said. “We had this guiding idea that getting closer to what you love gives you more understanding, even if you can never understand, and that’s what helps us have a meaningful life and death. And the narrator was a guide for us and a way for the audience to enter the story of Maurice and Katia in a personal way, so that they were also part of the love story.
Each challenge along the way leads filmmakers toward a new creative opportunity. The absence of synchronized sound inspired publishers to rely on the music of composer Nicolas Godin (Air). “He brought this fun, playful, retro-futuristic style to the score,” Dosa said, “which complemented his wonderful work with Brian Eno with other Air tracks and other music played with the same synths. and electronic music from the early 80s to the late 70s.”
Volcanoes also provided their own soundtrack. “We had to totally rebuild the soundscapes for all the 16mm footage,” Dosa said. “The images were extraordinary. But there were so many questions that abounded throughout the footage. There would be a photo of a volcano, a photo of steam and smoke, a photo of bubbling lava, and then an iguana or guides on horseback or Katia sitting in an inner tube. How do we make sense of these things? So it was a huge challenge trying to understand the context and trying to draw connective tissue.
As Dosa and his editors reacted ecstatically to the Krafft’s incredible fiery landscapes, from a shoe crashing into molten lava to erupting craters spitting boulders, they realized that looking into the personalities of volcanologists and their connection to the volcano hunting life was the common thread. follow. “And of course the heart of their life was the volcanoes,” Dosa said. “This exploration of questions and all that we couldn’t really know allowed us to embrace this larger theme of the unknown, whether it’s the mystery of volcanoes or the mysteries of the human heart.”
Dosa and writer Boris aren’t willing to call the Kraffts’ affliction an addiction, nor do they explain the psychology of why the duo was forced to run into mortal danger. Instead, they structured a romantic triangle narrative. “Above all, we wanted to shape this as a love story,” Dosa said, “in particular, a love triangle. It was important to establish how Maurice and Katia were bound by their love of volcanoes. , the more danger they are in. We also see tropes of myths and this epic grand scale that we’ve woven through the truth that could come with magic and grandness. And we wanted to tell a story about creation, destruction, and creation again, the way volcanoes create both new life and new earth, while destroying life and earth, but then this cycle of life joins Maurice and Katia, whose spirit is very much alive .
To deliver their poetic, lyrical, and whimsical storytelling, the filmmakers cast the multi-hyphenated July, who often read passages from Katia’s books to lend more of her voice, as Maurice tended to act as the media spokesperson for the couple, who were celebrities in France. . “We thought one of the roles of a narrator might be to help us fill in the gaps not just with answers, but with questions,” Boris said. “We had this guiding idea that getting closer to what you love gives you more understanding, even if you can never understand, and that’s what helps us have a meaningful life and death. And the narrator was a guide for us and a way for the audience to enter the story of Maurice and Katia in a personal way, so that they were also part of the love story.
Complementing the scientific video and photographic travelogues of the Kraffts was an archive of documentaries and media interviews. “Those buckets of material were so helpful to hear their voices, to see their personalities play out on screen,” Dosa said, “to see, in particular, their banter in a particularly funny interview.” Dosa had to turn to Japanese archives to tell the story of the couple’s untimely death following a volcano explosion in 1991.
The film is 93 minutes long, which requires discipline, Dosa said. “There was so much information that we were trying to communicate, so many different images, music, sounds, trying to establish these different characters and science and philosophy at the same time,” the filmmaker said. “So we realized we needed to be as light on our feet as possible while trying to maintain depth. It was a delicate dance.
They screened the film in New York and Montreal to see how it played, and brought in a third editor under pressure to meet the Sundance deadline. During a viewing just before the final cut, Dosa was in despair. “It didn’t work out,” she said. “We’ve all felt it. We’re just, ‘Ah, it’s not quite there.’ And we just removed what was blocking those narrative channels, it gives you a slight pause, which obstructed the momentum, and then the movie could breathe again.
If the film has a message, it is that one should not deceive Mother Nature. “Our hope is that people can truly encounter the power and sensitivity of our planet,” Dosa said. “There are so many stories about the Earth as dead or as a resource to be extracted, something that has no connection to humanity or that humans have to conquer and tame. Our film can tell a story about the power of the natural world as well as the bonds you can build on love and fear rather than domination.
National Geographic Documentary Films and Neon will release “Fire of Love” in theaters on Wednesday, July 6.