Shooting the Mafia – Pictures from Italian History


Coral-red hairs, a cigarette burning between the fingers and eyes glimpsing with wit. That’s how 83 years old photojournalist Letizia Battaglia looks like through the lenses of Kim Longinotto’s camera.

After its appearance in Berlin and Sundance Film Festivals, Shooting the Mafia has been presented in 21st Thessaloniki Documentary Festival. Battaglia’s story is one of a fierce woman in a dangerous world of men. After divorcing from her dominating husband in the male-led Italy of the Sixties, she started to work as a photo reporter for the newspaper L’Ora in Palermo, Sicily. And, from that moment on, she began to witness the power of the Mafia.

Photography of Sicilian children armed with guns
L. Battaglia, Day of the dead. Palermo 1986.

Her black-and-white dramatic pictures cast a light on the darkest corner of the city. Photos that are soaked in blood and beauty, depicting both the dead bodies of the mobsters’ victims alongside with the faces and the everyday lives of the poorest people of Palermo. Battaglia’s shootings are terrific, unforgettable signs of violence that can hit the viewer with all the strength of the truth. Because Battaglia and her colleagues were fighting a war, and their old cameras were their only weapon. They couldn’t even afford lenses: they just had two that they used one after another.

Looking from a distance

I watched the movie in a theatre packed with Greek People. As on the screen passed the history of my country in the last 30 years, I started to feel overwhelmed by emotions. I already knew these footages. I knew the Courtroom packed with Mafia Men in the most important process against them. I knew the pictures of their ruthless retaliation, the tick-black smoke covering Palermo after the bombs wiped away the lives of Judges Falcone and Borsellino, the leading men in the Nation’s fight against the Syndicate. But I didn’t knew they could still move me that much.

Photography of Rosaria Schifani
L. Battaglia, Portrait of Rosaria Schifani
(Rosaria Schifani, widow of one of the officer that were escorting Judge Falcone the day of the bombing. During her husband’s funeral, she publicly addressed to the mafia men, urging them to repent about their actions)

The most surprising reaction, though, was the one that came from the other people. Due to the stereotypical image of southern Italy with a generous amount of worldwide famous mozzarella-song such as “O sole mio” and “Volare”, the first half of the movie was filled by smile and laughter. However, complete silence succeeded as the story showed its most fierce side. The Theatre was completely silent as everyone in it was so moved that could not even speak.

That was, above all, the best recognition for Battaglia’s work. First with her pictures and then with her political activism (she eventually became MP for the Green Party), she has always had the same goal: cast light on injustice. Of course, she paid her dues for her fight, but she never stopped to search for the truth. Even if she was alone. Even if that meant facing powerful and dangerous people that had no moral constraint. Even if her only mean to do that was an old, battered Pentax camera.

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