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April 2004

By Julian Roman

The Agronomist
Distributor: ThinkFilm
Director: Jonathan Demme
Producer: Jonathan Demme, Peter Saraf, Bevin McNamara
Composer: Wyclef Jean
Starring: Jean Dominique & Michele Montas, Raoul Labuchin, J.J. Dominique, Aboudja.
   

   

Freedom is not a right. It is fought for and paid for by the blood of those willing to sacrifice. Sometimes, we who are lucky enough to live in free societies, get a glimpse of what the struggle for freedom is really about. Jonathon Demme's powerful, heartbreaking documentary, The Agronomist, is a tale about the fight for freedom and a man who gave everything for it. Jean Dominique, the owner and voice of Radio Haiti Inter, the only free radio station in Haiti, is the subject of this film. His story is an interesting one. It is the story of Haiti over the last sixty years. An island nation oppressed, abused, and beset by turmoil.

Jean Dominique became friends with filmmaker Jonathon Demme in the 1980's. Dominique was in exile in the Unites States. He fled Haiti to avoid being killed by the oppressive government of the Devalier (Papa Doc and Baby Doc) regime. He owned and operated a radio station, Radio Haiti Inter, that publicized the struggles of poor Haitians and their callous treatment by the Haitian government. Dominique was an eccentric character. I can see why Demme was so fascinated by him. The way he spoke, his outlandish mannerisms, the man demanded attention. Their friendship grew over the years and Demme began filming his life story through a series of interviews. The chronology of these interviews followed a turbulent time in Haitian history. Governments came and went. Haiti would descend into anarchy and Demme filmed it all through the perspective of Jean Dominique. We see him change over time. His hopes rise and fall with Haiti, as his beloved country staggered under political change.

Dominique, who was raised in a privileged family, abandoned a career in agriculture to pursue his dream of being a journalist. His evolution to the voice of Radio Haiti is a true journey of self-discovery. Dominique fell in love with the cinema. His efforts to bring realistic depictions of Haitian life to film where crushed by Papa Doc Devalier, the Haitian dictator for forty years. Dominique took his voice to the radio, speaking in the patois of the poor Haitian people. They identified with him and he brought them a world of information. He publicized the inequities of Haitian society and was constantly victimized by the Haitian government. His radio station was riddled with gunfire and his employees were tortured. Dominique used his wits to evade capture and thus was borne a lifetime of skillfully evading harm. He would take his family into exile several times. Always returning to a hero's welcome and broadcasting his message out to the Haitian people.

Jean Dominique was murdered in the year 2000. His death is shocking because we come to love him during the film. He's a strange man, but we identify with his passion for his homeland and people. Demme is severely affected by his murder. He never represents himself on screen. He uses the film to voice his outrage over Dominique's death. He pulls no punches, laying blame and pointing a cold finger towards those he feels responsible. Demme wants the world to know about Jean Dominique.

The film is very informative. It speaks volumes about Haiti and the current situation she finds herself in. It is not my job as a reviewer to make political statements. The film speaks for itself and draws its own conclusions about the state of affairs and who is ultimately responsible for the debacle in Haiti. It is political, undoubtedly, but it is more so a story of an individual that exhibited strength and courage. Dominique was not afraid of consequences. His conscious gave a voice to those who were not being heard. He spoke out in the face of mortal peril and sacrificed himself for the cause. Haitians remember him as a dogged pursuer of the truth and voice for justice. Their fight continues after his death as Haiti still faces an uncertain future. Dominique's memory and life story is a hymn of his homeland. The Agronomist is Jonathon Demme's love poem to Dominique and call to arms about his struggle. Everyone in the world should sit and watch this movie. Its themes are universal.