The Agronomist

After producing and directing a string of noteworthy documentaries about Haiti, Jonathan Demme gets personal with this affectionate tribute to courageously outspoken radio broadcaster Jean Dominique, the pro-democracy advocate whose unflagging support for president Jean-Bertrand Aristide eventually cost him his life. And with Haiti undergoing further painful...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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After producing and directing a string of noteworthy documentaries about Haiti, Jonathan Demme gets personal with this affectionate tribute to courageously outspoken radio broadcaster Jean Dominique, the pro-democracy advocate whose unflagging support for president Jean-Bertrand Aristide eventually cost him his life. And with Haiti undergoing further painful political upheaval in 2004 — overthrown amid controversial accusations of corruption, Aristide is again in exile — Demme's timing couldn't be better. Loved and hated throughout the beleaguered island country as the fearless voice of Radio Haiti Inter during the darkest days of Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier's regime, Dominique found himself in trouble with the murderous regime early in his career. Influenced by his father, an importer/exporter who exposed his son to the Haitian countryside and its Creole-speaking people, Dominique grew up with a unique sense of himself as a Haitian, even during his country's U.S. occupation. Dominique studied agronomy in France, but returned to the Haitian countryside to help improve the quality of the crops and, he hoped, the lives of the illiterate peasants who grew them. Dominique's efforts earned him the enmity of Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier and his machete-wielding Tonton Macoute militia, and Dominique spent six months in prison. After his release, Dominique co-directed ET MOI JE SUIS BELLE (1961), the first film made in Haiti by Haitians, then founded the first cine club in Port au Prince, which was later banned (could it have been Dominique's decision to screen Alain Resnais' NIGHT AND FOG right under Papa Doc's fascist nose?). Dominique found his true calling in 1968 when, after a two-year stint at Radio Haiti Inter, he purchased the station and began broadcasting uncensored news in Creole. For the first time, poor non-French speaking Haitians became politically aware and active, making the Duvaliers pere et fils very, very nervous. With his equally brave wife, Michele Montas, Dominique dominated the airwaves for decades unfettered by fear or intimidation, until he was permanently silenced in 2000. Demme began shooting footage of Dominique some 15 years before his death, in hopes of one day making a documentary. His foresight proved prescient: Rather then being a posthumous portrait of a martyred hero assembled from scraps of pre-existing interviews and static family photos, Demme's reverential portrait brings the man fully to life in all his wisdom, great humor and, above all, courage.

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  • Released: 2004
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Review: After producing and directing a string of noteworthy documentaries about Haiti, Jonathan Demme gets personal with this affectionate tribute to courageously outspoken radio broadcaster Jean Dominique, the pro-democracy advocate whose unflagging support for… (more)

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