Director Kim Longinotto’s extensive body of work has often documented women from around the world as they confront and battle an oppressive male power structure. Her documentaries Divorce Iranian Style (1998), Gaea Girls (2000) and Pink Saris (2010), among many others, profile women and gender and sexual outlaws, sometimes all three, at odds with the patriarchy.
Longinotto has found a fascinating subject in Italian photographer Letizia Battaglia whose bold and self-assured personality made her stand out in provincial, patriarchal Palermo, Sicily even before she made her mark photographing the mafia, those it murdered and the devastating aftermath of its violence, leaving survivors in grief and communities decimated by bloodshed and rampant corruption.
Shooting the Mafia is about Battaglia’s career and life; it’s rich with lively and revealing interviews, especially with the larger than life Battaglia herself. But it’s also about the reign of terror that the Sicilian mob held over Palermo and other nearby towns such as Corleone for hundreds of years. In Battaglia’s role as a journalist — she didn’t begin her career until she was 40— she photographed gruesome mob murders during the 1970s, one of the bloodiest periods when, she says, there were sometimes five murders a day in Palermo. Her stark, black and white images of corpses strewn on the street, of bodies under bloodied sheets and the placid faces of onlookers, of mothers screaming, of tight-lipped witnesses, of children living in dire poverty because of rampant mafia corruption, are powerful testimony and gripping works of art and documentation. It made Battaglia an enemy of the mob but she remained undeterred.
There is nothing glamorous or “honorable” about the thugs we see in Shooting the Mafia. Battaglia points out, and has the grim photographs to prove it, that along with other criminals they killed in cold blood women and children who witnessed their crimes. They blew to bits via car bombs the judges who had the courage to try to prosecute them.
The film reveals the personal cost to all who stood up to the mob. Battaglia, who was threatened for years, talks about the photos she did not take because they were too harrowing, but how those images live in her heart and head. These include the ‘80s mob slayings of two dedicated reformist judges who tried, with some success, to prosecute the mafia but who paid the ultimate price. Besides a compelling portrait of Battaglia and the forces she stood up to in Sicily, Shooting the Mafia is chilling, timely piece of journalism about the far reaching tentacles of corruption and how it systematically ruins innocent lives and decimates societies. It is a chilling, powerful film with contemporary relevance.