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July 12, 2004 - Image 10

Resource type:
Michigan Daily Summer Weekly, 2004-07-12

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10 - The Michigan Daily - Monday, July 12, 2004
Agronomist honored by DeIne
Ps r: TH N GAT h ic".e-us ht thetmtt


By Raquel Laned
Daily Arts Writer

While many new documentaries try
to charm audiences with droll humor,
quirky subjects or a commitment to
entertain that can
overshadow the T
subject matter, Th
Jonathan Demme's Agronomist
"The Agronomist" At the Michigan
is refreshing in its
sincerity. Demme DOcumintary
portrays the life
and ideas of a man he respects - Hait-
ian radio journalist and human rights
activist Jean Dominique - and delivers
a straight-up portrait that is both inform-
ative and entertaining.
The title actually refers to
Dominique's original profession, though
Dominique's commitment to improving
plant life and cultivation methods helps
mold his social conscience. Demme
-chronicals Dominique's struggle for the
empowerment of the people, the contin-
ual rebuilding of Radio Haiti Inter -
Dominique's station and the first news-
based radio - and Dominique's per-
spectives on the role of government and
the media - the Haitian people relying

on film and radio for their education, 80
percent of them being illiterate.
The film has a self-reflexive impor-
tance as Dominique waxes philosophical
on the role of cinema. He speaks of
absorbing Fellini -md Godard while in
Europe - vintage posters of "La Stra-
da" and "A bout de souffle" flash on the
screen - and on the subversive power
of film, a tool he utilizes by encouraging
films grounded in realism written and
directed by Haitians. This affirmation of
the power of cinema gives Demme's
own project some weight - hoping to
illicit a response from its American
audience on America's involvement in
international affairs.
Demme breaks away from his better-
known Hollywood-film style ("Silence
of the Lambs") and goes for a more
bare-bones guerrilla filmmaking
approach, toting his handheld camera
about and shooting whatever footage he
can get for over a decade. Interviews
Demme conducted are mixed with mon-
tages of grainy, older footage from news
clips or Haitian films. The montages
gain more urgency and power from an
energetic score by Wyclef Jean.
Had Dominique not exuded so much
charisma, Demme's straight-forward
approach may have proved dull. Fortu-
nately, Dominique speaks with both




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