[Blackstudies-l] Amy Wilentz: One way to honor Jonathan Demme: learn more about Haiti

Maria Lima lima at geneseo.edu
Sun Apr 30 09:21:27 EDT 2017


lisaparavisini posted: " Amy Wilentz for SDPB Radio. Click on the link to
the original report for the complete audio. The Oscar-winning director
Jonathan Demme was one of the great artistic innocents. This doesn’t mean
he was unsophisticated — far from it, just look at his wor"
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<http://repeatingislands.com/author/lisaparavisini/> Amy Wilentz: One way
to honor Jonathan Demme: learn more about Haiti
<http://repeatingislands.com/2017/04/29/amy-wilentz-one-way-to-honor-jonathan-demme-learn-more-about-haiti/>
by
lisaparavisini <http://repeatingislands.com/author/lisaparavisini/>

[image: JD_1_650_466_60.jpeg]

Amy Wilentz for SDPB Radio
<http://listen.sdpb.org/post/one-way-honor-jonathan-demme-learn-more-about-haiti>.
Click on the link to the original report for the complete audio.

The Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme was one of the great artistic
innocents. This doesn’t mean he was unsophisticated — far from it, just
look at his work. But he was open to the world and thought the world had
something to teach him; he was an eager and even a hungry learner.

I’m not sure when he first started coming to Haiti but I met him there in
the mid-1980s, when the dynastic Duvalier dictatorship was ousted and the
Haitian people made another thrust toward democracy. Jonathan was
fascinated by Haitian culture; in fact, by all things Haitian. Above all
other things, though, he loved Haiti’s amazing, storied 1791 revolution;
its muscular African-American-Caribbean religion; the incredibly beautiful
and moving countryside; the crowded capital city and its music and art. He
had one of the world’s great collections of Haitian art, and in his films
he liked to include Haiti references and bits of Haitian music.

Jonathan was a generous friend who actually really cared about others less
fortunate than himself, but he didn't broadcast it. He didn’t think of the
people he tried to help as lesser than himself, and he didn’t condescend;
he just wanted to put opportunity their way. He wasn't a user. He did
things and he made things that included people of all kinds.

I remember when I was working in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, I ran
into actor Sean Penn, who was running a displaced persons camp in
Port-au-Prince. We were sitting at the same table at a hotel restaurant. I
said something like, "Jonathan Demme has also always been interested in
Haiti." Penn, with his usual abrupt honesty, immediately corrected me. He
pointed out that he himself had never really been interested, until the
earthquake. He said, “You know, Jonathan was always, Haiti this, Haiti
that, Haiti this, Haiti that, and we’d listen and go like, yeah, that’s
Jonathan.”

And that was Jonathan. Once involved, he was committed, and happily. He
always wanted to make a movie about the Haitian Revolution, and was always
sorry it wasn’t happening, wasn’t coming together. For years he was back
and forth from the US to Port-au-Prince, and he chose to live neither in
Los Angeles nor New York City, but in Nyack, New York, with its large
Haitian community. He felt more comfortable with Haitians around. His house
was a brightly festive near-museum of Haitian art and sculpture. In a way,
he was an old-fashioned Haiti admirer, but in another — whenever he could
help or provide or make connections for people — he was involved, and kept
being involved.

Jonathan used to tell a story about New Year's Day, 2000, when he called
Jean Dominique, a legendary Haitian radio journalist about whom he was
making a documentary, and wished Jean happy new year.

Jean immediately responded in his harsh, cigarette-ridden voice and Haitian
accent (as Jonathan recounted it): "Jonathan, what is your agenda?" And
Jonathan was flummoxed because ... he didn't actually have an agenda. He
just wanted to wish Jean a happy new year. Jonathan told this story at a
memorial for Jean Dominique in New York, just after the journalist was
assassinated in the courtyard of his radio station four months after the
new year.

Jonathan Demme died on April 26, 2017, at 73 years old. His boyish
directness and wide-eyed appreciation of the world will be missed by all
who came into contact with him. Certainly Haiti was just a little bit
better understood by outsiders because Jonathan cared about it and tried to
interpret it. He made two outstanding documentaries about the country:
"Dreams of Democracy," about the beginning of hope after the dark days of
Duvalier, and "The Agronomist," about Dominique. Even the end of "Rachel
Getting Married" had a Haitian attitude, if you knew how to see it. Haiti
was part of him.
*lisaparavisini <http://repeatingislands.com/author/lisaparavisini/>* |
April 29, 2017 at 8:13 pm | Categories: News
<http://repeatingislands.com/category/news/> | URL: http://wp.me/psnTa-v5e

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