Anyone who’s ever winced at the mob violence and manipulation in The Godfather will quickly realize it has nothing on the real-life crimes of the Italian Mafia, as captured through Letitzia Battaglia’s talented eye and focused lens. The fearless photographer is the subject of Kim Longinotto’s fascinating documentary Shooting the Mafia.
Battaglia’s deserved status as an icon of Italian journalism and politics is made clear from the movie’s earliest scenes; we see her many indelible images of the Mafia’s murder and mayhem and marvel at her ability to capture these terrible crimes while avoiding becoming victim to one of them herself. Then Longinotto takes a step back and lets Battaglia tell her story more chronologically — sometimes while accompanied by one of her former lovers.
And there were many of those along the way. After an early marriage that became stifling and untenable with Battaglia’s dreams of life beyond the realm of the domestic, she broke free and lived life as fully as she could. She started taking photographs after offering to help an understaffed local newspaper; later, life led her to politics and protest. Always, she maintained her passion for documenting the pain and suffering that the Mafia wrought on her beloved Palermo.
In between interview scenes, shots of Battaglia’s photos, and snippets of vintage footage of the shutterbug and her friends and family, Longinotto uses clips from classic Italian films to illustrate the stories being shared by her subjects. As a result, Shooting the Mafia becomes more than the story of one remarkable woman — it’s a vivid chronicle of the time, place, and culture that Battaglia is so very much part of. — Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
Nikki Baughan: Documentary filmmaker extraordinaire Kim Longinotto does it again with this compelling, insightful portrait of Italian photographer Letizia Battaglia who has spent her life documenting Mafia crimes and their aftermath. Anchored by colourful personal testimony from the now 84-year-old Battaglia, who looks back on her life and career with a clear eye and a sharp wit, Longinotto has also expertly assembled a vast amount of archive footage which paints a picture of a country in political and cultural turmoil. Exploring not only the terrifying grip the mostly-unchecked Mafia had on the people of the country, but also the restrictive social mores which impacted career women like Battaglia, Shooting The Mafia is a fascinating portrait of a tumultuous time. It’s also a worthy celebration of its incredible brave and tenacious subject.
Loren King Besides being a compelling portrait of Letizia 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. Read full review.
Marina Antunes Letizia Battaglia was a trailblazer in every sense of the word. She rebelled against the cultural norms by breaking with her husband to strike out on her own, first as a journalist and later as a celebrated photographer who went on to capture decades of strife and murder at the hands of the Mafia in Palermo, Italy and the surrounding area. Shooting the Mafia is a fascinating portrait of a unique woman who had the courage and foresight to capture both the rise and eventual fall of some of the most notorious gangsters in organized crime.
MaryAnn Johanson Wow, what an amazing portrait of a woman devoted to her important work, totally uncompromising, and living life with gusto and integrity and no fucks given. Letitzia Battaglia is my new hero.
Nell Minow: There’s a reason that “shooting” refers to cameras as well as guns. Letitzia Battaglia took pictures of her community, and that meant the Sicilian mob, her photographs — and this documentary — a truth-telling more compelling than any journalist or glamorized Hollywood movie can convey. Battaglia’s journey from sheltered, even smothered, young girl to unhappy wife to, in her 40’s, fearless documenter of criminals everyone else was too terrified to take on.
Leslie Combemale Battaglia had a fearlessness that is powerfully feminist, and the viewers experience her complicated perspective as an Italian woman with a passion for her work. We are drawn into her conflicted feelings about a subject matter that, at its core, expresses violence, cruelty. and pain. Shooting the Mafia is imperfect, but it shines a light on a complicated woman and truly compelling artist. Read full review.
Sheila Roberts The brutal atrocities of life and death under the Mafia have rarely been captured in such a riveting way as they were by acclaimed Italian photojournalist Letizia Battaglia, the fascinating subject of filmmaker Kim Longinotto’s engrossing documentary, Shooting the Mafia. Battaglia’s photos encompassed the gamut of Sicilian life starting in the early 1970s, but the vast majority focused on violent Mafia crimes and their impact on the people of Palermo. Battaglia acknowledges that making a living documenting terrifying violence and receiving death threats, took an emotional toll, but she rarely let fear stop her. She knew she was being watched, and she learned quickly how to cough to conceal the click of her camera at the victims’ funerals. Read full review.
Jennifer Merin In Shooting the Mafia, acclaimed documentary filmmaker Kim Longinotto chronicles the life and career of the legendarily fearless photo journalist Letizia Battaglia, best known for her documentation of the Mafia, violent crime and its impact in her hometown of Palermo. The film is a fascinating profile of a strongly independent woman who, now at age 84, is still speaking out against corruption, and it’s gripping account of life in Palermo during the 1970s and 80s, when crime and corruption ruled the Sicilian city.
Pam Grady: Award-winning documentarian Kim Longinotto’s latest celebration of the lives on 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. Read full review.
Sandie Angulo Chen: Director Kim Longinotto’s biographical documentary Shooting the Mafia is a captivating chronicle of acclaimed Italian photojournalist Letizia Battaglia’s personal and professional life. Famous for exposing the Palermo Mafia’s crimes and victims for three decades, Letizia brings to mind Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s oft-quoted adage “Well behaved women seldom make history.” Letizia’s path wasn’t conventional; she left her comfortable but unfulfilling domestic life and eventually became the first woman to be hired as a photographer by a daily Italian newspaper. Two thirds into the film, Letizia’s story begins to take a backseat to the attempt of a few brave prosecutors and police investigators to bring the bosses of the Sicilian Mafia to justice. At that point the documentary becomes somewhat of another film, no less interesting but slightly less focused on the unique and enthralling Battaglia.
Cate Marquis The powerful documentary Shooting the Mafia focuses its lens on the work and life of Sicilian photojournalist Letitzia Battaglia, who turned her lens on the impact of the dirty work of the Mafia in her native Palermo. Documentarian Kim Longinotto spotlights not only Letitzia Battaglia’s unlikely career, taking up photography at age 40 and breaking barriers in male-dominated Sicilian society to become it’s first female journalist, and her remarkable personal life, which plays like something out of a movie thriller, but her role in breaking the grip of La Cosa Nostra on Sicily. It is a gripping, astonishing tale on all levels.
Title: Shooting the Mafia
Director: Kim Longinotto
Release Date: November 22, 2019
Running Time: 94 minutes
Language: English, Italian with subtitles
Distribution Company: Cohen Media Group
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Marina Antunes, Nikki Baughan, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pam Grady, MaryAnn Johanson, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sheila Roberts, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna
Edited by Jennifer Merin