Filmmaking as Mechanism

Kim Longinotto’s latest film, Shooting The Mafia, premiered at Berlinale this month. The documentary looks at the life of Italian photographer Letizia Battaglia, who, for 20 years, used her art to document the crimes of the Mafia in Sicily. We spoke to Kim about the making of the film.

ASFF: How did you come to work on this amazing story?
There’s a woman called Niamh Fagan, she’s an Irish producer and she’d seen Letizia’s photos when she was on holiday in Sicily. She got in touch with me and we raised the money together. We wanted it to be a double journey of finding out about the Mafia, so we wanted the Mafia to be parallel with [Letizia] once she discovers them. So, the beginning of the film is more her love life and her childhood and all the things in her family, and once she discovers the Mafia, they’re interlinked. 

I think for me, the real surprise was, because we’ve all seen The Godfatherand we’ve all seen those films, I thought: “How can I have watched those films, all the Tarantino and all the films I really have enjoyed, and not really think about the effect on the police and the people who have to pick up the bodies and children walking to school passing a body?” You realise there’s nothing glamorous. They can wear sharp suits and have a cigar and look really sharp, but they’re nasty, self-serving, acquisitive, horrible men. That’s what they are and there’s no way around that.

ASFF: Letitza’s photos really expose that realness.
You can’t look away from them, and you see the effect. There are little bits of archive that we managed to get; one is of the murder of Judge Terranova. Letizia films him through the car window and you see men standing there on film, and then you see them pulling the body out very gently and very lovingly and putting him in the coffin, and sort of pulling his feet round, and you think, “Actually, there’s people that have to clean up this shit.” They’re not these cartoony things, and I think it’s really important because there’re kids all over Italy and all over the world that get seduced by this gangster high life and because they have this image of it being a glamorous, heroic thing, they don’t think about the fallout of it.

ASFF: In the film, Letizia struggles with the urge to destroy her photos because they bring her so much pain.
Yes, it’s this double – “I love my photos, I hate my photos.” And you can see at times in the film, she’s saying, “Why are you making me talk about this?” because she really revisited it for us, and it causes her tremendous pain. For 20 years every day, she would go out and film dead bodies and actually be face to face with incredible brutality. I think at times she’s still recovering, and I’m so grateful to her that she revisited it for us.

ASFF: Did you ever feel like you should stop making the film because of that?
No, because I thought, “This is what her photography is, this is who she is and actually she will feel good that she’s done it.” We’re not asking for the sake of it, we’re going to show her photos, we’re going to show her work, so no, I never questioned that. 

ASFF: Could you talk about the decision to use archive materials? 
Some people didn’t get it, and they said, “Why are you seeing these women dreaming on pillows, why are you watching that? Just cut that out.” We had a few little screenings and people said, “We don’t understand why the man is at the big table with all the big family and having his jacket taken off,” but for us it was really looking at how that sort of way of living, that culture, leads into it being permissible for men to do terrible things.

ASFF: What’s next for the film?
KL: It’s going to Dublin next because it got half the funding from Dublin. I loved being here, but you could spend a whole year – it’s going to Thessaloniki, Vilnius and on a tour of – you could spend a long time following it. In a way you have to say, “OK, the film’s going out on its own now.” So we’ve kind of launched it, and it’s like a little firework, off it goes.

Stephanie Watts