Tuesday, January 27, 2004

REVIEW: The Agronomist

* * * (out of four)

Seen 25 January 2004 at the Brattle Theater (Sunday Eye-Opener)

ThinkFilm will be releasing Johnathan Demme's profile of Haitian journalist/activist Jean Dominique sometime in April. Demme and Dominique were friends, and this documentary reflects that - any faults the man may have had are glossed over. Though he's presented as a man of the people, one can easily deduce that he was still a man of some means, as bespoken by his education, endeavors, et al. Even in Haiti, buying a radio station costs money.

Still, it's tough not to like Dominique. As we get to know the man, via news footage, interviews with his family and friends, and videotaped conversations he had with Demme during one of his exiles in New York, we're struck by a number of things - first, that he's very intelligent. He studied agronomy in Paris, he speaks English, French, and Creole fluently, and has expertise in fields as diverse as agronomy, radio journalism, and film. He's very passionate about the fight for human rights in his country, and is not afraid to speak his mind, even when it means criticizing Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the democratically elected leader who winds up falling short of his ideals.

What struck me most, though, is that he smiles much more than one tends to think of an activist smiling. Most political documentaries, or news coverage, is full of dour people making dour pronouncements. Dominique, though, seems to take great joy in his work, in art, and in the people he attempted to help. He's also unusually content to be a journalist - though he reports and campaigns vigorously, he never (at least, in this film) takes or is apparently offered a place in the government upon his returns from exile and the overthrow of various dictatorships.

I came away liking Dominique quite a bit. It's a good, if flattering, portrait, and also does a good job in illuminating the situation in Haiti over the course of Dominique's life.

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