The Agronomist

I picked up this DVD when it was on sale and am really amazed that I’d never heard of it before. It is directed and partly filmed by Jonathan Demme, the Oscar winning director of Silence of the Lambs.

It is the story of Jean Dominique, an intriguing, passionate native of Haiti who trained as an agronomist in France, but fell out with the government a few years after his return. But his work trying to improve the land brought him in contact with the farmers, and his support for them and his encouragement in their battle for survival became a driving force in his life.

But what the film is mostly about is his ownership of Radio Haiti, how he and his journalist wife transformed it from a French language entertainment station to one broadcasting in Kreyole and bringing the outside world to this embattled island.  About how news from elsewhere made local people believe that change was possible.

Demme met Dominique in New York in 1986, and uses extensive footage of interviews with him, his wife and others through that time. And throughout, even while he was raging against the corruption the man was smiling. He has a sense of the surreal, of events being beyond sense, and that made him brave. Perhaps too brave.  Dominique and his wife were forced into exile twice, before he was assassinated outside the radio station in April 2000.

I loved the stories of how they struggled to maintain the radio station. How the government stopped most of their advertising, then someone donated a taxi, the profits from which would pay staff wages. Then on their second return from exile, people across the country donated pennies to repair the station the government had shot to pieces.

His death was a huge tragedy of course, but I was impressed  that a man who took such joy in exposing corruption, helping the oppressed of his country, and campainging for human rights, actually managed to live to the ripe age of 70.

This is a brilliant film, warm, funny and full of passion, about a man who really was larger than life. IT has a great soundtrack by Wycliff Jean. Dominique, his brave wife and  family, and this film, should be much better known. Demme should have got a truckload of awards for it. And Haiti should now be a decent, safe place for people to live.

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