Filmmaker Kim Longinotto’s views changed about organized crime while “Shooting the Mafia.” |

Filmmaker Kim Longinotto’s views changed about organized crime while “Shooting the Mafia.”

A woman mourns for a loved one killed by the Cosa Nostra in a still from Kim Longinotto’s “Shooting the Mafia,” an official selection of the World Cinema Documentary Competition at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.
Courtesy of the Sundance Institute

FIlmmaker Kim Longinotto found her perception of organized crime challenged while filming “Shooting the Mafia,” a documentary screening at the Sundance Film Festival.

The film centers on award-winning Italian photojournalist Letizia Battaglia, and reveals the cruel reality of the Sicilian Costa Nostra through her lens Longinotto said.

“Because we’ve all seen ‘The Godfather’ and other mafia films, I thought, ‘how could (Francis Ford) Coppola and (Goodfellas director Martin) Scorsese and the others have made the films if they knew what the Mafia was really like,’” Longinotto said. “In their films, we don’t see the fact that they kill children, or that they kill women in the street.”

The filmmaker referred to the various photos by Battaglia that show women laying in a pool of blood in their stocking feet, and men who were shot at their job washing cars – victims of the Sicilian mob.

In their films, we don’t see the fact that they kill children, or that they kill women in the street…” Kim Longinotto, “Shooting the Mafia”filmmaker

“In the mafia films we only think that it’s mafia killing mafia, and the characters are brave men of honor going off to war,” she said. “But, actually, Letizia’s photos uncovers is the cowardice, like the photo of a boy who must have been about 11 or 12 who was killed because he witnessed the Mafia killing his father. I love it when she says ‘They call themselves men of honor, but what is the honor of killing children?’”

Longinotto’s research for the film startled her, especially when she saw an archival video of an interview with Luciano Leggio, the head of the Corleonesi, which was the main faction of the Costa Nostra in the 1980s.

“(He) tells the reporter that it’s much worse being the killer than being the killed, and that the killers are ones who suffer,” she said. “Then he raged about homosexuals and talked about killing them as if they were subhuman and didn’t matter. This is very much the same kind of people who would do genocide, like what happened in Nazi Germany.”

The challenge for Longinotto was to find a balance between telling the mafia’s history and Battaglia’s story, so she reached out to Laura Poitras, a documentarian known for her 2014 film, “CitizenFour,” which was about NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

“Laura gave a lot of feedback on how to tell stories at once, and she said we couldn’t go right into her life story at the beginning,” Longinotto said. “She told us we had to start in the middle or the end and jump back to the beginning.”

The process proved to be tedious, especially for editor Ollie Huddleston, the filmmaker said.

“Normally, I would have given him the footage, and it would have a beginning, middle and end,” Longinotto said. “This film was different. Ollie must have looked at film for hundreds of hours, and we could have made this film a hundred different ways.”

'Shooting the Mafia'

Saturday, Jan. 26, 6 p.m., Redstone Cinema 1
Sunday, Jan. 27, 9 p.m., Salt Lake City Library Theatre
Wednesday, Jan. 30, 3 p.m., Sundance Resort Screening Room
Thursday, Jan. 31, 2:30 p.m., Prospector Theatre
Friday, Feb. 1, 9 a.m., Temple Theatre

Part of the dilemma was the archival footage, especially the footage of what is known as the Maxi Trial, where prosecutors, with the testimony of former mafia bosses, including Tommaso Bruscetta and Salvatore Contomo, which resulted in the indictment of 475 mafiosi, Longinotto said.

The trial ran from 1989 to 1992, she said.

“The way the TV (networks) would film these archives, especially in the 80s and 90s, would be short and have a lot of voice overs,” she said. “So the scenes in our film were made up from 10 or more sources.”

Longinotto relied on her archive researchers Cristina Rajola and Clare Stronge to find the footage.

“Cristina went all over Italy and begged TV stations for the footage, and since they didn’t want to look through hours and hours of their own coverage, she did that,” Longinotto said. “Clare got the releases and music rights, and some she got a week before we finished the film. So there were two determined young women going at it all the time.”

Some of the footage they found were poor copies of lost originals, according to Longinotto.

“Most of the footage wasn’t looked after,” she said. “They had watermarks all over them and (were) in terrible shape.”

Getting the archives and editing done wasn’t the only challenge, Longinotto said. She had her own interesting experiences filming her subject, Battaglio, a W. Eugene Smith Grant recipient for Humanistic Photography and the Cornell Capa Infinity Award winner from the International Center of Photography.

“We showed up at her door very excited, and she says, ‘Go away,’ and slammed the door in our faces,” Longinotto said with an exasperated laugh. “Then when we did start filming, she would tell us she couldn’t film some days because she was making another film with an Italian director.”

In spite of those conflicts, the Longinotto respects the photographer.

“I love her outspokenness,” she said.”I remember one day she told me, ‘I’m the way I am and if people don’t like me, they can (expletive) off.’ I think we should all be more like that and stop making excuses.”

Longinotto was also surprised by Battaglia’s vulnerability during the interviews.

“She didn’t know anything about the mafia,” Longinotto said. “I remember when she told me how she took her first photo of a dead body and suddenly, the mafia was there.”

There were so many avenues the film could have ventured down, but Longinotto knew wanted to tell Battaglia’s story, and tell how she came to terms with her decisions.

“At one point she asks us ‘Why are you asking me this? I don’t want to relive it,’ and she is constantly wanting to burn her photos and get away from her past,” Longinotto said. “And while she is always saying she’s not a mafia photographer, these photos were taken at the time when she was most resourceful and focused. They were the pinnacle of her work.”

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