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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars inspiring film about an inspirational man
Jonathan Demme's "The Agronomist" is a documentary about Jean Dominique, the Haitian civil rights leader and radio journalist who was gunned down by unknown assassins on April 3, 2000. A passionate believer in a free and open press, Dominique founded Radio Haiti in the early 1960's and became know as the "voice of the people" for over four decades of that nation's...
Published on June 19, 2005 by Roland E. Zwick

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worth seeing!
Jean Dominique contributed a lot to our country's history and its view of the press. Though an obvious ulterior agenda motivated this documentary it nontheless told the story of a very admired and possible leader of Haiti if were ever interested. I just wished it pushed further into rumored "lavalas" involvement in this man's death...maybe that's just not important...
Published on January 18, 2007 by MINEISAWEAPON


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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars inspiring film about an inspirational man, June 19, 2005
By 
This review is from: The Agronomist (DVD)
Jonathan Demme's "The Agronomist" is a documentary about Jean Dominique, the Haitian civil rights leader and radio journalist who was gunned down by unknown assassins on April 3, 2000. A passionate believer in a free and open press, Dominique founded Radio Haiti in the early 1960's and became know as the "voice of the people" for over four decades of that nation's turbulent, strife-torn history. Through a succession of coups and counter-coups that seemed to forever rock the country, Dominique remained committed to securing freedom for the citizens of his beloved island nation, even if that meant having to do so as a frequent political exile living in the United States. That his own life ended tragically - as is so often the case when brave individuals step out to try to make the world a better place - is of less importance than that people of goodwill pick up the banner and carry forth his message of social justice and equality for all people. Demme has done just that by putting together this inspiring and thought provoking documentary.

In constructing his film, Demme has chosen to rely primarily on the many interviews Dominique gave over the course of his lifetime. Thus, even though Dominique is dead, we are able to hear his story in his own words, a distinct advantage for those of us who knew little or nothing about the man and what he accomplished prior to our seeing this movie. We learn firsthand of all the dreams and fears, hopes and disappointments that came to define this one individual who truly made a difference in his world. In addition to these interviews, Demme also provides insights from Dominique's supportive wife and family as well as from some of the common folk in Haiti who were inspired by Dominique's vision.

As the movie unfolds, Demme provides us with a well-delineated history of Haiti in the last half century, showing us the political turmoil and human suffering that have, sadly, come to define life in that benighted country. This includes the installation and overthrow of both Duvalier regimes ("Papa Doc" and "Baby Doc"), the election then overthrow of Aristide by the forces of Cedras, then the return to power of Aristide at the hands of an international force led by the United States. The saddest part of the movie comes near the end with the realization that, even with a democratically elected government in place, life has not become appreciably better for the average Haitian, for the violence, suppression and government corruption seem as intense today as at any time in Haiti's past.

Still, despite these many setbacks, Dominique's vision of a world where every person is free to speak his mind without fear continues to flourish in the hearts of men and women everywhere. This film is a tribute to that spirit.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Voice Of A People (Review Of Film, Not DVD), June 8, 2005
By 
Todd Steven Burroughs (Hyattsville, MD, USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Agronomist (DVD)
Radio, when used correctly, can get you killed.

It's the most powerful, most personal medium. Nothing else on planet Earth can reach more oppressed people-the poorest, the illiterate and semi-illiterate-with the same information at one time. It explains and reflects issues, events, and people. It provides company as well as context. At its best, its mixture and manipulation of supplied sound nourishes the spirit and offers hope for a better tomorrow and, perhaps, even eventual liberation.

So Jean Leopold Dominique, a member of Haiti's light-skinned mulatto elite, was tuned in to this power. He purchased a radio station. In the 1970s, he turned himself onto the potential of expanding democracy through a free medium. ("Radio, then," says Dominique, "was not a news medium. It was entertainment.") He found freedom through his frequency. He committed class suicide using his (broadcast) voice to rally for peasant power. His reward: a violent death after being twice exiled from his homeland.

Jonathan Demme, the filmmaker behind "The Silence Of The Lambs" and "Philadelphia," was, of course, unaware that Dominique was going to be assassinated in April 2000, outside of Radio Haiti's studios; Demme had begun interviewing Dominique in 1986 for a documentary on the beleaguered island. They hit it off. So, on and off, the duo's filmed talks continued until 1999.

Those interviews form the spine of "The Agronomist," a tribute to Dominique's life, his wife, and Haiti's potential and constant strife. (The title comes from the profession he abandoned once broadcasting took hold.) Dominique's widow, Michele Montas, co-owner of Radio Haiti, assists Demme in telling the story of her husband's powerful existence as a broadcaster and a grassroots political activist.

This film chronicles the constant battle for free speech in a nation of U.S.-supported dictators and, subsequently, democratically elected presidents who allowed others to use dictator tactics on their behalf. ("It's 7 a.m.," Dominique broadcasts one morning in the 1990s. "They try everything-to gnaw at us; to bury us; to electrocute us; to drown us; to drain us; it's been going on for more than 50 years. Is there a reason for it to stop? Yes-one: Things much change in Haiti.") The same politically inspired censorship that Dominique experienced when he formed a film club in the 1960s dogged him throughout his career at Radio Haiti. He said he did two things that caught too many angry, oppositional ears: broadcasting in Kreyol (Creole) and providing "in-for-ma-tion"-political commentary and reporting. "Risky business," Dominique told Demme more than once. Later on in the film, he says directly but not arrogantly: "I know I am attacked because I'm doing my job the way it should be done."

At first glance, Dominique doesn't look like a national hero. Pipe ever prominent, physically slight but not frail, he reminded this reviewer of a kind of mulatto Jacques Cousteau. Then he talks, and the energy in his voice takes over. He animates his words with almost comical expressions and with eyes that, when widened to make a point, look ready to pop out of his head. His pronunciation exposes his values ("coming TO-GETHER, doing things TO-GETHER"). The fact that he wears his heart, Haiti, on his sleeve is as visible as his wide, big-tooth, grin. His literal smelling of trouble is comical.

Some of Haiti's best are among those contributing to the story. Wyclef Jean and Jerry "Wonder" Duplessis expertly handle the score, and Edwidge Danticat, the great author, is one of the film's associate producers.

Victory seems illusionary, particularly viewing "The Agronomist" in the context of today's headlines. Radio Haiti is no more. As of June 2005, the men charged with his murder have either been killed in jail or escaped when Aristide was forced to pack his bags during last year's coup. The killing's masterminds are still unknown, and evidence has been "lost." Surviving an attempt on her life in Haiti after her husband's death, Montas now lives and works in America. Nevertheless, the film ends on a triumphal note. A correct choice, since, according to Jean Dominique: "You cannot kill truth; you cannot kill justice; you cannot kill what we are fighting for."
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worth seeing!, January 18, 2007
This review is from: The Agronomist (DVD)
Jean Dominique contributed a lot to our country's history and its view of the press. Though an obvious ulterior agenda motivated this documentary it nontheless told the story of a very admired and possible leader of Haiti if were ever interested. I just wished it pushed further into rumored "lavalas" involvement in this man's death...maybe that's just not important. It's just sad that only half of this story was told...SEE IT SO YOU CAN JUDGE FOR YOURSELF.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Death was not a defeat for this man, August 13, 2007
By 
This review is from: The Agronomist (DVD)
This is one of the most inspiring documentaries I've ever seen coming from my country. Jean Dominique's unparalleled quest for freedom really made my day and deepened my enormous respect for such idealists. Jonathan Demme creates a film that is no less absorbing and considerably more powerful. The film focuses on Jean Dominique, a Haitian radio station owner, journalist, and tireless human rights activist. Dominique was born to the thin upper crust of Haiti but turned his back on that class to advocate for the poor and landless. Exiled twice to America (in 1980 and 1991), he returned to Haiti both times to press for democracy and land reform. He was assassinated in April 2000, a deep loss for the Haitian people and the world.

The film stitches together interviews Demme did with Jean Dominique over several years. Even from that grainy footage, it is apparent how charismatic Dominique was. His excitement is infectious; when he opens wide his eyes and smiles, we can't help but smile with him. At various stages, he talks about the "risky business" of operating a free radio station in a dictatorship, and we're inspired to undertake our own risky business in search of freedom. What's particularly impressive (and appealing) about Dominique is his indefatigable optimism. But when he talks about the CIA's role in his country, we're reminded of why giving that institution too much power (even in this age of terrorism) might not be such a good thing. His invitation to join his struggle along with his honesty and strength could not be bent. Only bullets could (and did) stop him.

Another extremely touching aspect of his story is the level of bonding they had with his wife. It is such a rarity and such a wonderful thing to happen, that you cannot but feel happy that these two people have met and enjoyed their life together.

"The Agronomist" is far from a perfect film. Demme, who has directed such movies as "Silence of the Lambs" and "Philadelphia," skips over important events and large blocks of time. Those not intimately familiar with Haiti's recent past may find it difficult to keep up. There is also a lack of context at certain points: what role have the various militias played? how has President Aristide affected the country and how has power changed him? By focusing so completely on the charismatic figure of Dominique, the documentary sometimes loses its way.

Still, this is a rare glimpse into a country that's again in the news. As Dominique himself states, "Cinema is a window on to the world...If you see a film correctly, the grammar of the film is a political act."

***Haiti remains the hemisphere's poorest nation, multiply burdened by unforgiving debt as well as increasing inability even to structure or even imagine another, more hopeful future. How sad Dominique would be to see what has happened in the seven years since his murder. And yet, how fiercely and relentlessly he would continue to fight for that hope. Indeed, how fierce and beautiful he remains in this film, a call for resistance against injustices both general and devastatingly specific.****
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Political Passion + Remarkable Bravery, January 24, 2007
By 
Daniel B. Clendenin (www.journeywithjesus.net) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Agronomist (DVD)
"The truth," recalls Jean Dominique (1930-2000) quoting Shakespeare, "will always make the devil's face blush." For forty years Dominique was Haiti's most eloquent and outspoken political and human rights activist. Whether it was Papa Doc Duvalier, his son Baby Doc, Raoul Cedras, Jean Bertrand Aristide, Preval, the provisional puppet governments supported by America and run by the military, or the hated Macoutes thug-militia, Dominique spoke unvarnished truth and justice to power. He gave voice to the poorest of the poor in general and peasants in particular. When he was assassinated April 3, 2000 at the age of 70, he requested that his wife and the peasants together pour his ashes into the river. By training Dominique was an agronomist, but he became a national hero by force of his unflinching bravery, charming eloquence, and political passion. Late in the documentary he describes himself as always having had "an unquenchable faith as a militant for true change." With his journalist wife Michele Montas, he owned and operated Haiti's oldest and only free radio station, Radio Haiti, despite repeated episodes of harassment, torture, jail, and over six years of exile in Manhattan. Broadcasts were in native Creole rather than colonial French, connecting Dominique viscerally to the millions of powerless peasants. In addition, he produced Haiti's first film in Haiti by a Haitian, sensing that when you watch closely, you understand how a film becomes a political act. In 1965, Papa Doc's authorities permanently closed Haiti's first film club that he had started. Written and directed by Academy Award winner Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs), who interviewed Dominique over a period of ten years, this documentary demonstrates how some times human history is driven from "the bottom up" rather than the "top down." In English and Creole (with English subtitles).
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Expressive and engaging, December 30, 2005
This review is from: The Agronomist (DVD)
From Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs, The Manchurian Candidate remake) comes this documentary about Jean Dominique, a Haitian radio journalist and human rights activist who, from 1960 to his assassination in 2000, spoke out against the violence and dictatorships in Haiti, often resulting in his exile.

The documentary spends a lot of time on Dominique's face, which usually might be a bit tedious except that Jean Dominique himself has quite an expressive and engaging face. When he talks, his smiles, glances, and movements are really very absorbing, and the man was a very interesting and wise person. It's almost odd to imagine someone like him arising out of the ashes of such a tumultuous country as Haiti.

Haiti itself strikes an interesting character, being as it were one rife with violence and turmoil. This documentary analyzes the forty years Dominique experienced from behind a microphone and shows not only the personal tension, but the geopolitical issues (let's just say this movie isn't very nice to people like Presidents Reagan and Clinton).

The first part of the movie itself is most important because it spends time showing the absolute need for media in order to maintain human rights. It's difficult to watch because it shows how much we take our media for granted and how shortsighted our media really are. While we bother our comfortable heads with issues of "objectively" representing "everyone's needs", some people are struggling to make sure their voice is heard and getting killed over it. Maybe it's a good thing we have nothing really to talk about, because it shows we're not in these people's situations.

Anyways, a very powerful and inspiring documentary indeed, and one that's pretty well done despite the poor video quality. The background music and the focus on Jean Dominique's face make it very comfortable and friendly even as he's helping to reveal the issues he had to deal with. It's very good.

--PolarisDiB
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars powerful and compelling......, May 24, 2007
This review is from: The Agronomist (DVD)
Though, I know of filmmaker Jonathan Demme (known best for THE CRYING GAME, among other films), I have never seen any of the films from his extensive body of work. What's more, I knew even less of Haiti. It was time that I receive an education, I felt, and what better way to do this than through viewing an intense and engrossing film like THE AGRONOMIST, one of the most beautifully crafted documentaries I have seen in a very long time.

The film's title is in reference to Hatian radio journalist Jean Dominique (1930-2000), a great, charismatic and controversial part of Haitian mass media and history for the forty years he was on the air, with RADIO HAITI, his radio station, founded in 1960. For those of you unfamiliar with agronomy, it is a type of agricultural science. Receiving an education as an agronomist as a young man, from a very affluent mulatto family in Haiti, Dominique applied his acquired knowledge of the science of sustainable cultivation to help poor Haitian peasants, with their cash crop. He also felt a calling to start up a film club, produce a Haitian documentary centered on voodoo, and eventually start his work as a very progressive journalist, challenging the corrupt politics of his very violent and turbulent government. Eventually, Dominique was driven into exile, in New York, with his wife.

Jonathan Demme began recording informal interviews with Dominique in 1986, juxtaposing his footage with newsreels documenting political violence in Haiti, as well as interviews with Dominique's wife, other family members and colleagues, leading up to his assasination in April of 2000. His footage is compelling, profound and even (at times) humorous. The very charismatic Jean Dominique was insightful, with a wit that cut like a knife, and interjected his pointed observations with bursts of humor and poetry. What's more, the original musical soundtrack is fabulous. Wyclef Jean and Jerry "Wonder" Duplessis bring great songs to this documentary piece, that add such color and flavor to the story. THE AGRONOMIST is great and I am truly surprised that it didn't get more exposure! I definitely reccomend it.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is the Haiti the governments don't talk about, October 25, 2005
This review is from: The Agronomist (DVD)
I am passionate about Haiti and the struggle of the poor every day to feed, clothe, and house themselves. This is a wonderful view of that beautifully spirited country from the eyes of a native and a man who sees it as it is. If you love Haiti, you have to see it - if you don't know anything about Haiti - you have to see it - if you care about the poor everywhere/anywhere you have to see it. Praying for Peace in Haiti.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Moving and very Eye-Opening Film, February 25, 2007
By 
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This review is from: The Agronomist (DVD)
I enjoyed watching this documentary because it really showed what could be... the elite of Haiti rising up and standing for the rights of ALL Haitians not standing for impunity in the justice system and governmental abuses. Jean Dominque dared to simply stand for HAITI...against corruption on all sides and he paid with his life like so many other Haitian activists. It is a shame to see so many rich and powerful ignoring the plight of the poor in their own country. This documentary shows the story of someone who dared to be different. His impact is living beyond his life thanks to this film and others who carry on his story.

I have been to Haiti twice and am planning my third trip. Your heart is so full to the breaking point when you visit - so many wonderful people full of life and looking for hope. Haiti is so often pushed to the sidelines but hopefully with films such as these more people will be inspired to help in the fight for justice for Haiti.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Agronomist, August 7, 2005
This review is from: The Agronomist (DVD)
The Agronomist is a great documentary about Political life in Haiti. Back home we have a bad political practice, anytime a leader did something wrong The Big fellows came for their rescues. Why, in USA if a leader does something wrong, he/she will be put in Jail. When the Big Fellows stop supporting the dictatorship in Haiti, the haitian people will live a better life.
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The Agronomist
The Agronomist by Jonathan Demme (DVD - 2005)
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