Jonathan Demme's newest documentary takes a look at civil rights struggles in Haiti, focusing on the charismatic figure of one Jean Dominique, radio personality, political commentator, and--for four decades--major thorn in the side of the country's dictators.Consisting of face-to-face interviews with Dominque during his exile in the U.S., and interspersed with newsreel footage of the ongoing troubles in Haiti, THE AGRONOMIST succeeds largely because of the charm on the man at its center. Dominque comes across as a good-natured idealist, if a bit one-dimensionally so; he has an unfortunate tendency to say things like "You cannot kill the truth." He co-directed the first Haitian film (which was, of all things, a documentary about a beauty contest: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0055968/combined ), was a continuing inspiration to filmmakers in his homeland, and most importantly served as the voice of the politically oriented Radio Haiti beginning in the early 60s.
Demme's documentary takes us all the way to Dominque's assassination in 2000. Celebrated for years by his countrymen for his incredible fortune in evading prosecution, he finally ran out of luck. His tale gives Demme an opportunity to provide a capsule history of Haiti, and to shoot a few darts at the U.S. government for its often-unwelcome interference in the land's affairs. In this respect, the film is informative.
But THE AGRONOMIST never really succeeds in becoming more than a standard talking-heads documentary. Perhaps there's too much Dominique, bad teeth and all; the film might have benefitted from a wider perspective, especially since the film aims to explore Haiti as much as the life of this admittedly interesting man.A well-made if inessential film.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2004 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Philadelphia Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Chicago Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.
This film is listed in our political documentary series. For more in the Political Documentary series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Minneapolis/St.Paul Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Minneapolis/St.Paul Film Festival series, click here.