Directed by Jonathan Demme
The Agronomist is a biography about Jean Dominique, a Haitian radio broadcaster and journalist. He constantly railed against the injustice and oppression suffered by his fellows Haitians. It’s very intriguing to watch a man so strong and dedicated, fighting for what he knew was right, fighting for a people that were mistreated by their leaders, fighting for county he loved more than life itself. His continual defiance against corrupt politicians and businessman led to assassination attempts on his life. Unfortunately his enemies were finally successful on the morning of April 3rd, 2000 outside Radio Haiti Inter in Port-au-Prince.
Jean grew up in Haiti one of twelve children. While his family lived comfortably, his father instilled in him a pride in being Haitian. In the ’50s, he went to college at the University of Paris to study agronomy, a branch of agriculture dealing with field-crop production and soil management. It was there that he fell in love with cinema and the power that it had as an art form. Upon returning to Haiti he formed the Cine Club.
Later he bought Radio Haiti Inter and started a revolution by broadcasting the news in Haitian Creole, which is what the majority spoke. For the first time it provided the people of Haiti as a whole the ability to learn what was happening with their government and the rest of the world because previously the media only broadcast in French, the language of the elites. Jean said, “I tried to introduce information. Risky business.” His outspokenness caused the radio station to be shut down in 1980 when the Tontons Macoutes, Duvalier’s paramilitary secret police, destroyed the station’s equipment. Jean was driven into exile in 1980 and again in 1991; however, he always made a triumphant return, a hero to the people and a scourge to the powerful. It was during his second exile that Jonathan Demme met Jean and had the amazing foresight to interview and document this man’s life.
Every time a new leader was installed whether by force or election, it didn’t take long before they were corrupted by the system and exposed to the masses by Jean. This corruption is certainly not unique to Haiti, but aside from hurricanes, the coups are the only other time Haiti seems to make the world news. Even now as I write this review, Haiti is once again wracked by strife and turmoil. Aristide has been removed from office and the country, leaving the people killing each other in the streets. These recent events alter the story of “The Agronomist.” It is no longer the story of a Haitian man; it is now one small chapter in the history of Haiti
The film ends shortly after Jean’s death. His wife Michele returned to the station to continue his work, going so far as to suggest that Jean’s actually back in exile once again, certain to return to finish the work he started. While I enjoyed learning about this revolutionary, the film had an unsatisfying ending because Jean’s murders are unsolved. I certainly don’t expect Jonathan Demme to investigate this crime, but the film gives the impression that Jean wouldn’t stop and it’s sad to think that no one is doing the same for him.
For more information on the struggles of a free press around the world, go to Reporters Without Borders.
To learn more about the struggles of Haitians go to the National Coalition for Haitian Rights.