The shooting in the title does not refer to shooting with guns but shooting with a camera. This very unusual and fascinating film, directed by the accomplished Kim Longinotto, examines the life and profession of Letizia Battaglia, who became the first woman photographer to work for a newspaper in Italy. Her terrain has been Sicily, where she became famous and admired for the photos she took of Mafia killings that deeply upset the public and law enforcement as well as Battaglia. The film is a model of screen biography, reaching beyond the protagonist to shed light on broader aspects of society.

The film is also deeply personal, exploring the life and feelings of Battaglia, who at the age of 84 is still amazing. We see her in clips when she was on the journalistic beat, and we also see her interacting touchingly with former men in her life, as well as starting a new relationship at her advanced age. She also gets into politics when she can no longer deal with the grim images that she has photographed, and she tells of not wanting to photograph the remains of a famous friend blown apart by Mafia hit-men. There is a section in which we also see Mafia honchos brought to justice, and the film is very conscious of the poverty that exists in Palermo, much of it perpetuated by Mafia control.

The film is often delightful as a result of the director’s research and creativity. To describe events and emotions involving Battaglia, the director inserts marvelous clips from Italian movies that express parallel feelings. There are still and film photos of Battaglia at various stages of her life. The director also uses music to highlight sections, with songs that include the famous “Volare.”

The overall result is acquainting us with a very special woman who has very special achievements to her credit, all done in an entertaining and informative manner. In addition via Battaglia we experience the horror of the Mafia crimes that she documented.

The film also indicates the importance of photojournalism wherever it is practiced. Think, for example, of iconic American photographs, such as the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima, contemporary battle coverage, the famous Times Square kiss as people celebrated the end of World War II, or the gritty New York City street pictures taken by the photographer Weegee (Arthur Fellig).

“Shooting the Mafia” is a very rich film that emerges as a superior documentary very different from other factual films and an important one to see. A Cohen Media Group release. Reviewed November 19, 2019.

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