Kim Longinotto: Shooting the Mafia

Kim Longinotto, in her latest film presented at this week’s Berlinale (and already shown at last Sundance), portrays the Italian photographer Letizia Battaglia who has documented the Sicilian mafia over more than four decades. Battaglia happened by chance to become a photographer for the Palermo daily „L’Ora“, when – almost already 40 – she asked for a job as a journalist during the Sicilian summer holidays. After just a few days of work, she had to report her first mafia assassination. Over the years, Letizia Battaglia has become the woman who has seen an immense number of crime scenes, burials and finally court trials. Her mostly black and white pictures have been shown in museums and exhibitions around the world.

Longinotto depicts this courageous woman by putting together her biography and life story and intertwining it with the development of the Sicilian society under mafia oppression along forty years. The result is a beautifully woven collage of love and life on the biographical side and ritualized murder, terror and blood on the other.

In the newly shot footage of the film, the filmmaker sets up a series of meetings where Battaglia comes to talk with her „ex-lovers“ (all younger than the now 80-year-old photographer). Together they remember their times passed as a couple and these moments slowly develop the story of a woman, who always went her own way, despite all real risks and obstacles she had to face.

The description of the Sicilian mafia is far away from the romanticized images we know from so many movies. In real life, mafia kills fathers and sons relentlessly, they carve eyes out and blow up bombs that are far too big to only hit their target. The power of this criminal organization is based on a well-spun net all across the society, from the Sicilian mountain villages to the churches and finally up to the heads of state.

Longinotto instead, prefers to glamourize a bit Battaglia’s life story. She creatively interweaves pieces of Italian classical movies that apparently show the same situations Battaglia has lived and that combine the fascinating beauty and lust for life of the protagonist with that of the actresses of those times. I personally have some doubt about the choice of the music, famous Italian classics that for my ears have little to do with any of the stories told.

However, a huge load of archive footage of all kinds (newsreels, home movies, pieces of documentaries, photographs…) has been chosen and artfully strung together in order to create a strongly emotional picture of what it means to face such a power as it is the mafia’s, with a photo camera, emotions, and art.

GB, 2018, 94 mins.

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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