Sulfur burns blue while lava cools red. We like volcanoes, and we also like stories.
The Oscar-nominated documentary “Fire of Love” returns to theatres nationwide for one night only on Valentine’s Day. The moving film (which is also available on Hulu and Disney+) follows volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft, a married couple who died together in a volcanic eruption in 1991.
“It makes me especially happy that it comes out on Valentine’s Day, a day where we celebrate love and the people we get to walk through (life) with,” filmmaker Sara Dosa says. “I believe Katia and Maurice would be amused.”
Maurice, 45, and Katia, 49, were French volcanologists who dedicated their lives to their work. They married in 1970 after meeting at the University of Strasbourg in France and spent their honeymoon on the volcanic island of Stromboli, where they photographed almost continuous eruptions. They hiked to the rims of active volcanoes to collect data samples such as rocks and gases throughout their careers. They also recorded video to educate the public on the wonders and dangers of volcanic explosions.
“They were able to capture things that very few people had seen before,” Dosa says of the photographers. “They toured the world with their footage for 30 years, holding conferences, going on speaking tours, and introducing people to the world of volcanoes. They reasoned that if people could fall in love with volcanoes, it would spark interest in our planet. And if one can fall in love with the planet, one should be able to care for it as well.”
Their breathtaking footage of volcanoes is used in ‘Fire of Love.’
“Fire of Love” is based on thousands of photographs and over 200 hours of footage shot by Katia and Maurice. Dosa came across their work while researching another project and was captivated by their love of volcanoes and each other.
“They were so philosophical and playful – they just seemed like people we’d want to meet,” Dosa says. “Then we discovered they had hundreds of hours of footage of erupting volcanoes, which was absolutely breathtaking. ‘Oh, yeah,’ it was like. ‘This is an incredible story.'”
Meeting a force as powerful and dangerous as volcanoes was almost “divine” for Maurice and Katia. In an odd way, it was also deeply romantic.
“They were establishing a relationship with the forces of creation and destruction, and seeking comprehension of this seemingly unknowable force that was responsible for life on this planet,” Dosa explains. “It’s profoundly alluring and touches on the essence of romance when you’re in touch with something so transcendent. There’s an unrequited longing: you want to be in this transcendent state but know you’ll never get there.”
The daring couple “knew how to live with fear.”
The National Geographic documentary shows how dangerous their feats were. Maurice takes an inflatable raft out on a sulfuric acid lake in Indonesia, but soon abandons his mission as the acid begins to chew through the boat. In another scene, Katia comes perilously close to an erupting volcano in Iceland while not wearing a protective aluminized suit.
“All she’s wearing is a red parka,” Dosa recalls. “Then she runs and puts on her suit, but there are lava splatters next to her and her thermometer apparently reads 1,200 degrees Celsius. But she was unflinchingly present – that was simply stunning.”
The fearless pair never lost their sense of humour, once frying eggs over the heat of volcanic rocks.
“They’re mythic characters,” Dosa remarks. “They weren’t fearless, but they knew how to live and almost dance with fear.”
They died together while attempting to educate people.
Following the deadly eruptions of Mount St. Helens in Washington and Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, Katia and Maurice focused their efforts on educating government officials about the importance of volcano warning systems and evacuation plans. It’s one of the reasons they went to Japan’s erupting Mount Unzen in 1991 to film its pyroclastic flows – a destructive, fast-moving mixture of ash, rock, and gases that runs down a volcano’s slope.
“Their mission was to communicate the dangers of volcanoes, which is exactly what they were doing when they died,” Dosa says. “They were attempting to capture a single shot of a pyroclastic surge in order to educate governments on how to properly evacuate people.”
The couple was caught in a pyroclastic flow and died in the eruption, along with more than a dozen other people. Their bodies were discovered next to each other.
“I’d love to know what they were thinking and if there was a moment of acceptance, like, ‘OK, here it is,'” Dosa says. “They spent so much time discussing and reconciling the possibility of their death. I hope they had a moment of peace knowing they had lived their lives with meaning and purpose.”