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The Agronomist (PG)



Review by: Graeme Kay | Rating: Two

DIRECTOR, Jonathan Demme, continues his love affair with Haiti (his previous films on the country include Haiti: Dreams of Democracy and Haiti: Killing the Dream) with his latest work, a documentary about Jean Dominique, an agronomist- turned-journalist who fought tirelessly for democracy in the Caribbean island, until he was assassinated in April 2000.

Dominique took over Radio Haiti-Inter in 1968, at the height of dictator, Papa Doc Duvalier’s power.

Until then, radio in Haiti had been strictly for entertainment, with no news or current affairs and certainly no comment pertaining to the workings of the incumbent regime.

But Dominique, along with his wife Michele Montas, changed all that when he began to include regular political commentary in the indigenous Creole language, rather than French – the language of the establishment, on the political and economic state of the nation.

While this incredibly brave stance made Dominique a hero with the poor and the dispossessed, it made him public enemy number 1 with the country’s land-owners and the political and military elite.

On several occasions, the Haitian army took steps to close down Radio Haiti-Inter, and twice Dominique was forced into exile in the USA.

But each time he returned and, with each return, his iconic status with the people grew, until, finally, he was targeted for death by supporters of the politician, Dany Toussaint.

In his film, Demme relies on the usual documentary format, interspersing interviews with Dominique, Montas and other prominent Haitian militants, with archive footage covering events on the island from the 1960s up to the present day.

But what makes it so fascinating is the larger-than-life presence of Dominique, who was interviewed while living in New York, in 1995.

A passionate and forceful speaker, Dominique had tremendous charisma and his great love for Haiti and its people was matched by his unflagging determination that they should find a democratic voice through his radio station.

Here, he explains how his original employment as a government agronomist fired his love for the Haitian working class and how he withstood torture, and threats against his life, to fight for their rights.

The end result is a portrait of a fantastically courageous and humane man, who stands alongside the likes of Fidel Castro as a champion of the working classes.

His memory lives on.

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