Fire of Love on the very big screen

How often do you see a documentary on volcanoes that’s also a romantic love story? Katia and Maurice Krafft – a very happily married couple – spent their lives studying the dangerous powers that occasionally break through the earth’s crust. But I didn’t watch it the way I should have seen it.

I first saw Sara Dosa’s excellent documentary, Fire of Love, last spring. I watched it at home, on my television, so I could review it for the DocLands festival. I gave the movie a B+. If I had seen it on the Rafael‘s main auditorium, I probably would have given it an A-. What’s the difference? The size of the screen. A movie about people studying volcanoes needs a big canvas.

Last week, I saw Fire of Love again on what is probably the biggest movie screen in the Bay Area: the Imax theater at the AMC Metreon. It’s 100-feet wide and 80-feet tall. It’s a massive experience. In one avalanche, I felt the rocks rolling down on me.

Most of the film was shot in 16mm, a small format that – before digital photography came along – was used for documentaries, porn, and very-low budget features. (Neither of the Kraffts lived long enough for digital cameras.) Spread over that huge screen, the image was rarely sharp, but it didn’t take long before I was used to it.

AMC rarely screened documentaries – even though Imax was originally designed for travelogues. This was a very special event. Director Dosa and her collaborator Jocelyne Chaput gave a Q&A after the film. Unfortunately, I didn’t record the discussion and can’t tell you about it now.

Katia and Maurice Krafft had one of those rare perfect marriages; they worked together and loved it. Their occupation was extremely dangerous – but also very important and beautiful. Lava flows and unique rocks are stunning. But throughout the film, you’re constantly reminded that the film will not end well. They speak mostly in French with subtitles, with English narration by Miranda July.

If you ever get a chance to see Fire of Love on a big screen, take it.