A provocative view into the life of a formidable figure, The Agronomist (2003) offers a glimpse into the life and legacy of Jean Dominique, who ran Haiti's first independent and free radio station during multiple repressive regimes.
Despite living most of his life in the capital city of Port-au-Prince and working as a journalist, Jean Dominique was a trained agronomist and devoted his life to giving voice and recognition to the poor and marginalized people of Haiti, particularly agricultural workers.
Directed by Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia, and Stop Making Sense), The Agronomist is powerful and insightful, particularly for viewers less familiar with the social and political history of Haiti. In a piece about why he decided to create the film, Demme writes:
“when I called Jean upon his arrival in New York in the early nineties to propose the idea of a documentary portrait of a journalist in exile, I really thought it was a good idea for a film. But the greater truth was, I was seeking an opportunity to hang with Jean, to really get to know a guy who I felt was one of the most intriguing, exciting people I had ever come across. … I found Jean to be brusque, all business, insanely professional and focused, brilliant at the microphone.“
But intriguing and exciting are understatements: Jean had a fiery personality and an unmatched intensity. From the look in his eyes and the gravel in his voice, it is clear that he had just enough crazy to keep him on the front lines of a longstanding political battle for a more just and democratic Haiti, a battle that eventually cost him his life. Demme writes:
“When we received news of Jean’s killing on April 1, 2000, everyone who knew Jean, who cared about Haiti, was devastated. It seemed like the final coup-de-grace to the effort to get Haiti moving forward again... Daniel Wolff proposed that the only positive thing we could do was to finish our little film, to honor Jean’s spirit and the country he so loved, by completing the work he had—however grudgingly—participated in, permitted."
Jean Dominique was survived by his wife, Michele Montas, who began her journalism career in Haiti in the early 1970s with Jean. After his assassination, Montas took over the station, but had to shut it down in February 2003 and flee to New York after receiving several death threats. Montas later served as the Spokesperson under UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.