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Rental Unit: "The Agronomist"

Directed by Jonathan Demme ("The Manchurian Candidate"), with music by Wyclef Jean, the film uses interviews and historical footage to bridge Dominique's story and the stages of Haiti's struggle for democracy he was on hand to witness. The director evidently worked on the project for many years, and it has the uncanny feel of unfolding in real time. Though the country has a reputation of extreme poverty, Demme doesn't leave out the educated, liberal activist members of the middle class and their wealthy antagonists, offering a more complete view of Haiti and its complicated evolution as an independent state.

Demme has a long and notable history with the documentary, directing Spalding Gray's "Swimming to Cambodia" and the Talking Heads' "Stop Making Sense." So it's surprising that this outing often feels underfunded and amateurishly produced (maybe inevitably, given the subject of Haiti). Yet the small and fiery Dominique consistently saves the moment, burning brightly at its center. Early in the movie, he says watching a film can be a political act in itself: "You feel something against the black part of life." His words haunt "The Agronomist," as it illuminates yet another dark corner in our sphere of influence. — Wayne Melton

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