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It is only fitting that the French Institute would choose to open its World Nomads: Haiti film series with Jonathan Demme's The Agronomist
(2004), a documentary about Jean Dominique, who (among other things) happened to found Haiti's first Cine Club at the French Institute in Port-au-Prince in 1961. Co-curated by Demme with filmmaker David Belle (founder of Ciné Institute, Haiti's film school) and the French Institute's Marie Losier, the series — along with its companion Haitian Documentary Series at The Maysels Institute — makes available a national cinema that has received far too little exposure, either in theaters or on DVD.
All of the films were made within the last thirty years — all of them politically tumultuous times, to which The Agonomist
is an indispensable primer, as well as an introduction to one of the men who left a lasting impact on the country: Jean Dominique. "In France, I discovered that if you see a good film, the grammar of the film is a political act." Returning to his home country, Dominique began fusing his interest in media and politics, all in relation to his concern for a Haitian identity independent of colonial forces. While he did help produce the first films Haitian films, Dominique is best known for his work with Radio Haiti Inter, the country's first independent radio station, and his outspoken political views, which made him an enemy of the ruling dictator and a hero to the people.
Demme, has proven his passion for Haitian politics and culture in several films, including Haiti Dreams of Democracy
(1988), which was shot in the wake of the political uprising of 1987, in which the three-decade Duvalier dictatorship was overthrown. Among the most promising titles in the series are the Cannes-nominated The Man By the Shore
(L'homme sure les quais) (1993) by Raoul Peck, whose family fled Haiti under Duvalier's oppressive regime only to return decades later with his camera-in-hand to document his country's tumultuous history, and Eat, For This is My Body
(Mange, ceci est mon corps) (2008) by Michelange Quay, a boldly symbolist interpretation of Haiti's colonial heritage starring Sylvie Testud.
May 5-26, 2009 at FIAF and The Maysles Institute