Fire of Love, Moonage Daydream, and Free Chol Soo Lee

Fire of Love (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️) is a terrific documentary I was planning to watch since it premiered in cinemas in July becoming this summer’s hit. I finally managed to see it at The Castle Cinema in Homerton in London. It is a poetic piece directed by Sara Dosa about a couple of volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft, who committed twenty years of their lives to their love for volcanoes studying their beauty and terrifying power. 

It is a eulogy for Krafft’s passion for their work produced as a collage using archive footage and photographs, interviews, and writings they left behind together with rocks and samples they collected over the years. It portrays their rich life, love for each other, and their childlike fascination for the magnetic grandeur of nature.

Disappointed in humanity they decided to focus on studying the power of the natural world, Katia from the micro, and Maurice from a wider perspective. They both developed wonderful techniques for their passions. Katia more observant in nature took breathtaking photographs. Maurice, with his daredevil character, developed astonishing filming techniques. Capturing the images of eruptions on film and camera allowed them to study volcanoes in more detail even after their left a site and was crucial in their pioneering work.

Avoiding volcanos classification, they still distinguished two types of volcanism, “red” the effusive, and “grey” the explosive. Those characterised by red-hot lava fountains without volcanic ash are less dangerous by comparison. Explosively eruptive, the “grey” volcanoes often produce grey eruption clouds that rise high into the sky. Their lava is richer in gas and has greater destruction potential. After the 1980 Eruption of Mount St. Helens disaster in Canada, Katia and Maurice decided to commit their studies to the “grey” volcanos. In the volcanic eruption in Colombia in 1985, 25,000 people died only because the authorities didn’t believe volcanologists when they warned them of the looming disaster. After that tragedy, Katia and Mauries felt responsible for creating educational videos to help the authorities understand the dangers and to create evacuation protocols to save lives. 

Katia a petite but fearless woman walks behind twice her weight Maurice, knowing that she will be able to go wherever he can. Maurice speaks openly about the possibility of dying in a volcano eruption and is at peace with it. Her biggest fear in life was losing sight of her ever-wandering husband. They called themselves volcano watchers. They died next to each other in a pyroclastic flow on Mount Unzen, in Japan, on June 3, 1991.

Another documentary I have just watched that similarly celebrates someone’s love of living is Moonage Daydream (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️), a eulogy to David Bowie.

Directed by Brett Morgen the film is a kaleidoscope of archive materials collected across the years of a thrilling career and sealed together with Bowie’s voice-over and music. To an extent, it felt as if Morgen instead of ‘explaining’ the artist as most docs do, was trying to put the audience in the artist’s head capturing its idiosyncrasy and genius. The film skirts around Bowie’s personal life only briefly mentioning his half-brother Terry and his second wife Iman and only in relation to his creative work. This is what I felt the film was about: an unbelievably imaginative mind and Bowie’s adventures as a prolific artist in music, sculpting, painting, and filmmaking. His intellectual curiosity, fascination with the world and need to reinvent himself made him one of the most fascinating artists of the 20th century and the Moonage Daydream is a celebration of that beautiful mind.

One other film, which I also watched at a cinema and I thought I would recommend here is Free Chol Soo Lee (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️), about a wrongfully convicted Korean immigrant and the community that fought for his freedom. 

It is a tragic life story beautifully told by documentary-makers Julie Ha and Eugene Yi. Chol Soo Lee was 20 years old when he was convicted of a 1973 Chinatown murder in San Franciso. It was a big case at the time because the person who was murdered was a gang leader Yip Yee Tak. Lee was identified by white tourists and was often referred to as Chinese. The court case was a farce but it took 10 years, 4 of which Lee spent on death row, to grant him a fair trial and drop the charges against him. 

Among the people who stood by him were Korean-American journalist K.W. Lee, future public defender Jeff Adachi, and a friend Ranko Yamada, who outraged by the injustice decided to become a lawyer to help in Chol Soo Lee’s case. Thanks to the incredible media attention and support of Korean-American and the wider Asian community, Chol Soo Lee, with his charisma and celebrity looks became a star. His release in 1983 could be a happy ending in a story. But Julie Ha and Eugene Yi carry on to show the reality of his life after prison and the dark places Chol Soo Lee went. The documentary as much as it is about minorities being denied basic rights and how the criminal justice system can ruin someone’s life, is also about the strength of the social movement that brought people together to fight for a person’s life. Unfortunately, the psychological damage incarceration inflicts on people cannot be undone.