Fresh off the disappointment of "The Truth About Charlie", his remake of "Charade", Jonathan Demme completed the documentary feature "The Agronomist", which is a very interesting profile of Jean Dominique, a Haitian journalist/activist who frequently faced exile from the government due to his outspoken views on politics and other local issues.
Although his speciality was agriculture, Dominique eventually decided to switch to radio to discuss his views on free speech and other topics, as well as to instill a sense of possibility in his listeners. The radio was not under the government's thumb, despite the fact that they desperately were trying to squash it. On different occasions, he was sent into exile (director Demme apparently did some of the interviews for the film during one exile around 10 years ago, but there is years worth of footage here) and the station was essentially wrecked, but Dominique came back again and again. The people of Haiti reached into their pockets and gave whatever little that they could, because they also wanted a free and independent radio station.
A fascinating portrait of a country in turmoil, "Agronomist" also shows the tireless work of one man trying - and often succeeding - in making a difference. Tragically, Dominique was killed outside his radio station on the eve of elections. Yet, as we hear from mourners at his funeral, Dominique's spirit, energy and desire for change lives on in the minds of the people. After a month off the air, Radio Haiti starts up again, once again delivering the messages that Dominique launched into the airwaves. The film is a powerful and emotional piece of work, but the last moments of the film are especially moving, as wife Michele Montas goes on-air to tell the people that Jean Dominique is still alive, as his spirit lives on.
"The Agronomist" is certainly a return to form for Demme, as the filmmaker knows how to highlight his subject and build a film around him. Dominique is a completely engaging subject, as the journalist and activist is a dynamic, confident speaker - it's easy to see how he could get people to rally behind him in the quest for a better future. Demme also has expertly assembled a series of clips illustrating Dominique's struggle, and the struggle of the Haitian people. Overall, certainly a very interesting and superbly done feature.
VIDEO: "The Agronomist" is presented by New Line in its original 1.33:1 full-frame aspect ratio. The movie appears gritty and grainy, but the presentation appears to accurately present how the film originally appeared. Given that shooting appears to have been done with a low-tech video camera (and stock footage has been added in), sharpness and detail are not remarkable in any way, but the picture still looks clear and fairly crisp for most of the running time.
Some minor pixelation occasionally occurs, but it's not much of a distraction. The slight specks, marks and grain that are present on the archival footage is understandable, given the age of the material. The newer material did not appear to be worn or otherwise flawed. Colors appeared natural, although somewhat subdued at times.
SOUND: "The Agromomist" is presented in 2.0 stereo. The interview footage is crisp and easily understood, with no concerns. Some parts of the film are subtitled.
EXTRAS: Unfortunately, there are no supplements. Some additional background information would have been helpful, but oh well.
Final Thoughts: "The Agronomist" is a powerful and compelling look at Haiti's serious issues and one man's attempt to make a change. New Line's DVD edition is disappointing when it comes to supplements, but audio/video quality is fine. Recommended.
The Film *** 1/2