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Friday, May 14, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Movie Review
'Agronomist' examines Haiti's troubled past

By Ted Fry
Special to The Seattle Times

"The Agronomist" is a documentary about Haitian journalist and radio pioneer Jean Dominique. Filmmaker Jonathan Demme conducted interviews with Dominique over nine years.
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Jonathan Demme has always had a thing for Haiti. The Oscar-winning director of "The Silence of the Lambs" has included whimsical nods to Haitian music and culture in many of his movies and even produced a CD of pop music by some of his favorite Haitian artists.

With "The Agronomist," his Haitian passion takes a serious and considerably more personal turn in profiling the journalist and radio pioneer Jean Dominique.

Demme became intrigued by Dominique in 1991 when he began a series of informal video interviews. He returned to his subject many times in Haiti and during extended stays in the U.S. when Dominique was a political exile.

If Demme had specific plans to make this documentary, he certainly couldn't have planned for its end — the assassination of Dominique outside his Port au Prince radio station in 2000. As "The Agronomist" makes clear, it was a political crime and one that remains unsolved.

Movie review


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***
"The Agronomist," a documentary with Jean Dominique, Michele Montas. Directed by Jonathan Demme. 90 minutes. Not rated, suitable for mature audiences. Varsity.

The title refers to Dominique's original vocation helping farmers in the rural communities of Haiti. He came from the upper classes, but continued his battles in representing his country's poor and dispossessed even as his career path changed to professional broadcaster. As operator of the independent Radio Haiti Inter from 1960 until his death, Dominique became a hero to the masses and a frequent enemy of the government.

In the extensive interview segments, Dominique exudes the charismatic good humor and mischievous zeal that brought him fame and infamy from the various constituents of Haiti's notorious political landscape. An impish, animated figure with sparkling eyes and naughty grin, Dominique recounts confrontations with the Duvalier and Aristide regimes sometimes with glee, sometimes with rage.

Another important figure in the film is Michele Montas, Dominique's wife and longtime partner in his radio operations. Montas returned to the Haitian airwaves after her husband's murder. Her remarkable eulogy to him adds even greater impact to the legacy he left for his country.

"The Agronomist" is very much a homemade affair, but by no means amateurish. Working with his raw video, Demme makes a stylish statement with his visuals and Dominique's words. He also gets considerable help from a sensational soundtrack by another beloved Haitian hero, Wyclef Jean.

With Haiti again in the news, "The Agronomist" is an apt history lesson about its political turmoil and a powerful testimonial about patriotism in the face of oppression.

Ted Fry: tedfry@earthlink.net

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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