The couple who fell in love – and died – on a volcano

There is an abundance of metaphors that can be made about volcanoes. One could say that they explode from you.

Literalizing that figurative language and themes is another matter entirely: Katya and Maurice Kraft fell in love and died in a volcano.

the fire of loveThe charming documentary, directed by Sarah Dosa and produced by Shane Burris, tells their love story. They were volcanologists who met through field work in the 1970s and changed their field, working together to collect data and snapshots of their hazardous subjects. Along the way, they garnered a bit of cult fame, before their deaths in 1991.

The shots they left behind are amazing. Filmed on portable 16mm cameras, it rivals any drone footage you might see in documentaries filmed recently with current technology. But there is also their humanity, a subset of science that is often overlooked. “In the footage, there is dust from the actual volcanoes where they shot,” Dosa tells the Daily Beast Obsession. “There are grains of hair that I am sure belong to them. These things may seem imperceptible on screen, but at the same time, they can also be deeply felt.”

Dosa and Boris talk to us in Savannah, where the fire of love A light show was presented at the SCAD Savannah Film Festival. The film premiered in January 2022 at the Sundance Film Festival, which was held virtually due to the Omicron wave of COVID-19. The duo is now touring the film in an awards campaign with distributors National Geographic and NEON. As of this weekend, it’s available to stream on Disney+.

“In Indonesia, someone who hosted Katya came to us when she had been working there for decades,” Dosa says. “There is a personal connection to this movie.”

the fire of love Not only does it capture the intense relationship that an ecstatic couple share, but through doing so it underscores the necessity of curiosity and reason when it comes to the dangerous, unknown matters of the world we live in. Not only did the Kraft family collect data, they traveled to erupt volcanoes while everyone else fled to understand how it worked. They risked their lives to save others.

The hottest feelings are at play here – romance, death, and beauty in both. with the fire of love Now available to stream, we spoke to Dosa and Boris about the intensity of film sentiment — especially in the world of documentaries. But also, what it’s like to be a fly on the wall for a couple so invested in their mission it’s become their whole life–and then their end.

NEON / National Geographic Documentaries

This film occupies several categories. It’s a love story. There is suspense and action. There is an erupting volcano. It is also educational. While you compiled this, how did you manage to juggle the different categories?

Dosa: We really think about the fire of love as a compilation movie. Whether it was the subject of love, or a lack of knowledge of nature, or volcanology, or scientific research, we were very concerned that this would be a soup of ideas. The illustrative perspective of the love story really helped shape the overall arc. Where the main themes of science and love really seem to intersect through the theme of the unknown – whether the unknown mystery is the power of creation expressed through volcanoes, or the unknown in human hearts, which brought Katya and Morris together.

Boris: And even though you can’t fathom it, you’ll always try. Katya and Morris have a deep background in existential philosophy. Feel deeply their question. You also see that they understand the absurdity of this kind of existential position. So you also get a sense of where their fun is coming from.

There is something Shakespeare about this mantra, that they fell in love and died on a volcano. It’s romantic, but there’s little prediction of doom. How do you balance that romance and illness?

Dosa: In the editing room, we came to the realization that near-death made their lives mobile. It really focused on what was most important to Katya and Morris, which was love — especially the love of volcanoes and each other. They knew they needed each other to pursue that love. For them, love and death go hand in hand.

This is incredibly impressive.

Dosa: For us, it was a pathological condition, but also an understanding of their view of the world, that death was not necessarily the end. They understood that volcanoes were a source of creation and destruction. This is a big cycle to fix the world, and they were part of that. So understanding their own death might prompt them to ration their hours, the way they intended to fuel the film, making their lives as meaningful and full of love and spectacle as possible.

Boris: For them, death is not the end. this is the beginning. This may be the end of their physical form, but it is the beginning of the myth that they, too, have been so invested in creativity for their lives. And most importantly, for the sense of nature and the importance of volcanoes, the endless process of creation and destruction.

It was almost a metaphor for their lives.

Boris: One of the things we were aware of in the movie was that they realized the dangers of living near a volcano, and being close to something that could kill them. But this was not their main concern. They knew they were going to die, and that wasn’t what drove them. What motivated them was how to live a meaningful life. They have invested a lot of time and energy in saving human lives. Understand what human life is capable of. I believe that you can only come to this understanding if you are prepared for your own death.

Dosa: The thing that was shocking to them was the idea that the other could die. Morris’ biggest fear is that Katya will be injured and in agony, and he will not be able to save her. The same for Katya. Her biggest fear is that Maurice will turn away, driven by his desire to see as much and photograph as possible, and will step through the lava. They had a lot of worries about each other, but they kind of came to terms with the idea that they themselves could die.

Anytime there is a documentary about people living lives on the edge of a precipice, I realize that these are human beings who have a different relationship to risk than the one I have in my life. I’m curious, perhaps not necessarily as directors, but as people: How did getting to know them through these shots change the way you think about taking risks for yourselves?

NEON / National Geographic Documentaries

Dosa: I like this question. Katya and Maurice are deep teachers and mentors. They taught me the fear and curiosity that can live behind risks, or motivate to take risks. There is a memorable line in the movie where Katya says, “Curiosity is stronger than fear.” I feel like she’s not saying she’s not afraid. But she says she sees fear, understands it as it relates to curiosity, and is able to reposition herself in a position of strength to truly take on curiosity — and thus legitimize risk. I think this is very powerful.

Boris: I think they show that fear is natural, and that experiencing fear is important. It’s very biological too. We can assess risk and fear of different things. But then there is a choice of what we do with it. They understand the risks, and then still try to do what they need to do. This is very different from some kind of foolishness, approaching something without any sense of understanding.

I find it fascinating to watch, as the footage is decades old, but it may be more compelling than anything captured by a drone, or anything captured by cutting-edge technology, from these volcanoes. What can you say about the strength of it?

Dosa: Working with 16 mm is very appreciable. permanence of it. In the footage, there is dust from the actual volcanoes they named. I’m sure there are grains of hair. These things may seem imperceptible on the screen, but at the same time, they can also be felt deeply. Carrying such very heavy equipment was also incredibly stressful. The granules give extra weight to this. I don’t mean to make that pun. But at the same time, it gives a sense of gravity and meaning to their quest.

Boris: We live in the moment that defies history, and does not accept the value of what history has to offer. This film deals with geological time, which is history on one of the largest scales. We have been able to retell their story through timeless themes and narratives.

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