Award-winning documentarian Kim Longinotto’s latest celebration of the lives of women focuses on Sicilian photographer Letizia Battaglia with a scintillating exploration not just of Battaglia’s career but of the crime syndicate that was her frequent subject.
Archival material of both stills and film sets the tone for Battaglia’s early life as a woman who embraced her passions with gusto, but that la dolce vita gave way to something altogether grimmer as she took up photojournalism in middle-age in the 1970s.
She says wryly that she expected to take pictures of women and children as the first woman photographer hired by an Italian daily newspaper. Instead, she found herself plunged into the ongoing bloody mafia wars in her native Palermo, Sicily, shooting crime scenes and corpses, a kind of modern-day Weegee always to be found where the action was.
She had more lives left, including a stint in politics, but her photography came to define her as her usual subject came to define Sicily.
Longinotto cuts away from Battaglia’s life for the 1980s-era massive mafia trial—there were over 400 defendants—and its bloody aftermath, all the better to illustrate both Battaglia’s beat and its attendant danger.
Battaglia’s images are disturbing, perhaps even more so for the woman who took the pictures. Decades after recording their deaths, these murder victims haunt her along with the mafia’s power to distort Sicilian society. Now, in her mid-80s, Battaglia perseveres, attesting to her own strength—a quality made abundantly clear in this unforgettable portrait of an artist who captured her region’s history one crime at a time.