Haiti??ôs Lost Voice

Kim, Kevin Y.

Haiti's Lost Voice By Kevin Y. Kim Illustration by Wendy Wohmon Filming Haiti sounds oddly left-field for most directors. Until the U.S. debut of his newest film this spring, however, Jonathan...

...debut of his newest film this spring, however, Jonathan Demme had been tooling The Agronomist, on and off, for over a decade...
...It was Dominique's still-unsolved murder by thugs allegedly linked to Haitian pols that compelled Demme to wrap up The Agronomist...
...We never thought of the big screen...
...The influential Pauline Kael once criticized Silence of the Lambs for being technically proficient but soulless...
...policies, and the checkered tile floors in Dominique's childhood home with equal care...
...At first, it was filming, interviewing, just for the sake of it," says Montas, a Columbia-trained journalist who headed Radio Ha??ti's newsroom and ran the station after Dominique's death...
...The resulting footage of Dominique holding forth on all things Haitian-from personal experience, history, and politics to Haitian identity, media, and cinema-forms the core of The Agronomist 's occasionally meandering, but ever-deepening narrative...
...Moving past where his exec-produced Haiti: Killing the Dream ended with the 1991 coup of expresident Jean-Bertrand Aristide, The Agronomist centers on the life and work of Jean L?©opold Dominique, once Haiti's most outspoken, renowned pro-democracy activist and radio journalist...
...Certain death might be cause for despair in other countries, other stories...
...the indefatigable souls of a freedom fighter and the peasant majority for whom he advocated infuse its low production values with a vitality not entirely its own...
...But I don't think he could be alive-if he wasn't killed when he was, he would have been eventually...
...Kevin Y. Kim has written about film, culture, and politics for The Nation, The Village Voice, and many other publications...
...Guitar-driven bars from Haitian-American emcee Wyclef Jean's original score combine with Demme's images in some of the most moving moments since the hip-pinching poignancy of The Fugees's "Ready or Not" (albeit in a not-so-different, Creolized hip-hop register...
...Interviews with Montas, Dominique's family, and peasant supporters, as well as archival footage charting Haiti's history and culture-including a stunning foray into Saut d'Eau's yearly Catholic-cum-voodoo festival-flesh out the world Dominique lived and died for...
...And it kept changing-first an homage to a friend, then a story about a man and his land, then, further along, a fight for justice and democratic principles, which still goes on...
...It is the Oscar-winning producer and director's fifth movie on the perpetually impoverished country-not counting Hannibal Lecter's escape to a Haiti-like island in Silence of the Lambs...
...Until then, the roughly three hours of video he had culled from various encounters in Haiti and New York with Dominique and his wife, Mich??le Montas, were still a handheld-DV hobby-horse...
...The Agronomist is its homely inverse...
...After meeting the pair in 1987, Demme had found Dominique one of the most dynamic, fascinating persons he ever met...
...And Demme's touch is at once sweeping and minute, tracing Haitian dictatorships, U.S...
...Instead, The Agronomist ends with an extended remix of one of Dominique's happiest moments: his return to Haiti in 1986 from his first, six-year exile...
...See www.theagronomist.com...
...During the project, we always had the feeling it would never end," Montas recalls...
...Demme, through the power of film, has made it impossible to forget, too...
...Jonathan, you cannot kill the truth," Dominique reminds his American admirer early on...
...The Agronomist really started as a sleazy kind of deception," Demme publicly admits, "a flimsy excuse for one guy- me-to get to know another guy-Jean Dominique...
...From its 1971 launch to its third, final shutdown in 2003, Dominique's Radio Ha??ti Inter was a rare independent voice whose investigations, commentary, and foreign news roused Haiti's people and riled its elites-until a hail of bullets overtook Dominique one quiet morning four years ago...
...I think Jean would be dismayed by what's happening in the world today," Montas says, softly...
...The Agronomist isn't all Dominique, however...

Vol. 68 • July 2004 • No. 7


 
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