Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Cultivating Truth in The Soil of Corruption: The Agronomist

Think your job is hard? Try talking while your station is being shot up by high-powered rifles. Try remaining on air when the Government is bent on shutting you down, bent in fact on silencing you - permanently.

Such were the travails of the late Jean Dominque, the erudite, charismatic and ultimately fateful lead character in this prickly yet highly engaging documentary from long-time Haiti-watcher Johnathan Demme. The "Something Wild" director melds face-on interviews with footage in a manner that goes straight into the issue - Haiti's legacy of oppression and revolt - and never lets up. Also featured are Dominique's widow Michelle,who was herself integral in the harrowing process of establishing and maintaining the radio station, as well as other family members, former staffers and other personalities. we also see the arc of former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, from influential priest to eventual President and then pariah.

Not all the interviews are in English and the director makes no attempt to either dub or sub-title the French and Kreyol segments. This might seem an irritant to the uninitiated, but watching the movie patiently, one will see the wisdom in this step as the over all spirit of the film will emerge even over the language difficulties. Also, the film seems to skim a bit on the Duvalier years, though we plainly see that at the beginning of his broadcasting career, the former agronomist (hence the title) is drawing the ire of both Papa and Baby Doc, and we are shown the latter ouster, aided and abetted as it was by the US.

The story that does emerge is one of massive unfulfilled potential, of promises unkept, and of a people held in suspense as power-seekers of various persuasions (of course the US is a constant shadow) carve up resources and suppress dissent.

Deserves to be viewed at least a few times, even now, roughly a decade after it was first released.

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