The Agronomist (2003) / Documentary
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for language, some violence and brief nudity
Running Time: 91 min.
Cast: Jean Dominique, Michelle Montas
Director: Jonathan Demme
Review published December 23, 2004
Acclaimed feature film director Jonathan Demme (The Manchurian Candidate, The Truth About Charlie) put together this fascinating documentary about one of the most popular and important figures in Haitian politics, Jean Dominique, entitled The Agronomist, an ironic title which tells of his educational background that implies anyone can make a difference if they try. As a journalist, activist, and owner of Radio Haiti, that nation's independent voice for the people, Dominique has tried to tell things as he sees them, which fueled hope for the peasant population while angering the powers that be, whomever they may be, to no end. Suffering through several regimes and feeling in exile on more than one occasion, Dominique was often down, but never out. No matter how many times they destroyed his radio station, he would rebuild it again, bigger and stronger than ever.
The Agronomist is mostly a series of interviews that Dominique has given over the years regarding his station and the state of Haitian politics in general. Mostly displayed in sequential order, Demme's film gives us a condensed history of Haiti, mostly concentrating on the 80s and 90s, when there were several regimes overturning one another, some democratic, some brutal. Interspersed throughout are news clips (mainly American) telling us of the incendiary events that would cause a nation of people to pile into boats to escape the brutal regimes, and the overview of world politics as it related to the island nation.
Although it is mostly a "talking head" documentary, The Agronimist is rarely boring, mostly because Jean Dominique is such a captivating and eloquent man, delivering impassioned speeches with colorful dialogue and animated delivery. It's easy to see how such a man could win the hearts and minds of a repressed nation, causing the powers at be wanted to shut his mouth at any cost. Even during the bleakest of times, Dominique didn't just hope, he knew with every fiber of his being that justice and freedom would ultimately prevail in the nation, and this optimism has kept hope alive for the many peasants who are without a voice in Haiti.
Without any narration, it is sometimes difficult to place the events in The Agronomist in the proper context, and it doesn't so much inform as pique your interest to find out more about Haitian politics in general. However, Demme's film does succeed in capturing the essence of a man mostly unknown outside of Haiti who speaks about freedom and perseverance in a way that is inspiring, no matter what nation you are from. The power of speech, whether through films, radio or the press is such a vital entity to basic human liberties. Through this documentary, the voice of an agronomist who had a dream for a thriving people can live on beyond his assassination in April 2000, and his voice can continue to give hope to a nation who no longer hears his passionate oratories.
©2004 Vince Leo