Movie titles don't get much duller or less enticing than The Agronomist, which is a shame, since behind the moniker lies a riveting and heartbreaking story of a charismatic man who came to personify the spirit of the Haitian people in the face of oppression.
Jonathan Demme's new documentary is a loving elegy to Jean Dominique, a Haitian who studied to be an agronomist—a soil-and-plant scientist—in Paris, where he fell in love with film and the revolutionary political potential of the French New Wave. Upon his return to his homeland, Dominique established a movie club and fought to bring filmmaking to Haiti. But he didn't make his mark on Haiti's people and political landscape either as an agronomist or as a filmmaker; it was as a radio-station owner and personality that he established himself as an impassioned foe of tyranny.
Of course, being a foe of tyranny in Haiti is a full-time, lifelong job, but in spite of a seemingly never-ending series of political and personal setbacks, including years spent in exile in New York, Dominique never loses his drive or his conviction that one person can make a difference. Like The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, The Agronomist explores a complicated, frustrating political situation through the prism of a magnetic political figure, an approach that keeps with the American tendency to reduce complex movements to a single galvanizing individual, but also puts a human face on an international tragedy. The Agronomist borders on hagiography, but it's easy to see why Demme holds Dominique in such high regard. Thin, with an impish, conspiratorial smile and wonderfully expressive hands, the energetic Dominique communicates with the mastery of someone who has spent his entire life learning to make every word and idea register as vividly as possible. Driven by Dominique's personal magnetism, The Agronomist is a haunting, inspirational valentine to free speech and human resilience.