Italian photographer Letizia Battaglia is a name that carries resonance throughout the city of Palermo. In her career as a photographer and later a local politician and councillor she dared to stand up to the biggest criminal organisation in the world; The Mafia. A rebellious and headstrong figure, her work helped to rally support and the political will to arrest and jail some of most notorious killers in Italy’s troubled history.
Directed by Kim Longinotto, Shooting The Mafia is an engaging blend of archive footage, photos and multiple interviews from Battaglia herself. Documenting her early life where her father secluded her away from the world, to getting married in her teens and experiencing another cycle of patriarchal control from her husband, it soon became apparent to Letizia herself that she was meant for more and she would not allow herself to be caged in by the men in her life. The movie is told through her perspective; on the influence she saw that the mafia held first hand in the streets and businesses; on the sway they held in state institutions; in the unspeakable violence they perpetrated against their targets and innocents alike.
Though the subject matter is one we are all familiar with through movies like The Godfather or more recently hard hitting tv series Gomorrah, the truth is that the horror the Cosa Nostra Sicilian mafia inflicted on the local population is truly ugly and much more barbaric than anything glamorised on screen. They murdered with impunity. Women. Children. There was no line they wouldn’t cross.
Their vast criminal empire spread through every facet of the city and it wasn’t until Letizia Battaglia started to photograph the carnage left behind that the media there were able to expose them and galvanise the people to demand change.
Shooting The Mafia works best when it’s focused on the work that Letizia Battaglia carried out on her journey seeking justice for the victims of the mob violence. It’s fascinating, personal, engaging but also graphically upsetting. Letizia once said that the pictures she didn’t take were the ones that haunt her the most. Given how vital her work was in turning the tide against the mafia, we should be grateful for the ghosts she endures for her city.