The Phoner

Slain activist's widow speaks on her husband's legacy.

Most men would have relished being filmed by an Oscar-winning director. But Jean Dominique wasn't like most men. Prior to the release of Jonathan Demme's The Agronomist (see review, this page), Dominique's widow, Michèle Montas, explained how difficult it was keeping him on camera. "After returning from exile [in New York] in 1994, we began rebuilding Radio Haiti (RHI) for the third—or was it fourth—time. [Demme] came, too, but Jean didn't think the film was important. He felt he just got back to his job, station, country, and didn't want to continue filming."

The Agronomist stayed shelved for six years, until Dominique's still-unsolved murder in 2000, which inspired Demme to revisit Haiti with a small crew and camera. "To me, what was most important about the film initially was keeping Jean's spirit alive," says Montas, speaking by phone from New York, where she now works as a U.N. spokesperson. Early versions screened in Haiti highlighted the man, his family, his love story with Montas. As Haiti's political crisis deepened, and the judge investigating Dominique's murder pursued his case up ever higher ruling-party ranks, the film became more political, Montas recalls. No wonder, having lived with the film for years, she compares The Agronomist's final cut to "letting a baby be born."

A Columbia-trained journalist who ran RHI after her husband's death, Montas appears throughout the film as a wife, widow, journalist, and confidante. While grateful to Demme for "showing Haiti in another light," she's certain Dominique would criticize current U.S. policies toward the country (remove President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, then watch chaos ensue). Montas is painfully familiar with the politically motivated violence driving Haiti's headlines of late. "It's possible people listening to Jean, who had him killed, feared him politically—even though we were never tempted by direct politics," she speculates. "Jean and I always felt we could do more as free, independent persons."

With Aristide in exile, old elites maneuvering for control, and people clamoring for change, who rules Haiti remains an open question. "The story is still so relevant even though it's been four years," Montas says of the turbulent period following her husband's death. "And it's far from finished."

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