Director Kim Longinotto’s documentary Shooting the Mafia lays out a lavish in-depth love letter to Italian photographer and activist Letizia Battaglia, a lifelong resident of Palermo, Sicily. Married at 16, Letizia found herself uncomfortable in the traditional roles of wife and mother, divorced her husband and raised her children on her own.
She gravitated toward journalism but soon found that her real passion was photography. Initially thinking she’d be covering fashion, women’s stories, and children, she was shocked when the newspaper asked her to shoot crime scenes, primarily the murdered remains of mafia hit victims.
During the ’70s and ’80s warring factions of the mafia were killing each other, sometimes up to five murders each day. The Sicilian mafia had a rule about leaving no witnesses, so they indiscriminately killed anyone who could tell the tale, including women and children. Letizia calls those photos from that period her archive of blood. They are brutal and horrifying.
“…the newspaper asked her to shoot…the murdered remains of mafia hit victims.”
Much of her past is still traumatic and difficult for her to talk about. Her own life was often in danger after her work became known to the mafia and to the public. Through decades of mafia control of Palermo, the streets literally ran with the blood of anyone who opposed them. After the violent murders of magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, public outcry inspired a few stalwart politicians and law enforcement officials to tamp down the mafia and finally capture and incarcerate the top bosses.
Crime and politics are not her whole story. Letizia also enjoyed many lovers after her divorce, always a passionate woman throughout her life. She had two partners over the years who became treasured friends and who still speak of her wistfully. Now in her 80’s, she still inspires passion and longing and reveals she has recently become the muse for a much younger artist.
The mafia murder images are stomach turning, viewers take note. Letizia talks about her life at great length and some of it is redundant, but she is always charming and inspirational, living as a strong, independent woman in a crushing patriarchy.
Shooting the Mafia (2019) Directed by Kim Longinotto.
7 out of 10