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Award-Winning Guatemalan Actor, Enrique Salanic, Couldn’t Attend His Film Premiere In NYC

Award-winning Guatemalan film ‘José’ is about to make its US theatrical premiere in L.A. and New York. But thanks to US travel restrictions, its leading actor Enrique Salenic won’t be allowed to enter the country for the film’s release.

The Guatemalan actor is the star of the award-winning film “José”

“José,” directed by Chinese-born American filmmaker Li Cheng, won multiple awards internationally during the international film festival season in 2018-2019, including the prestigious Queer Lion award at the 75th Venice Film Festival.

Guatemalan actor Enrique Salanic has been blocked from entering the United States ahead of the U.S. premiere of the film in which he is the star.

The fast-rising, U.S.-educated actor earned strong reviews for his lead performance in the Venice 2018 premiere as an impoverished 19-year-old gay man who lives with his mother and falls in love for the first time. 

Made in a neorealist cinematic tradition, the film is described in a press release as “a nuanced and vivid look at being gay in Central America.” 

‘José’ follows the eponymous character of the film, a closeted 19-year-old who lives an impoverished life with his mother, a street vendor, in Guatemala City. Guatemala, and most of Latin America for that matter, is a place dominated by conservative Catholic and Evangelical Christian religious values. When he meets an attractive migrant from the Caribbean coast, he finds himself falling in love for the first time; the relationship pushes him to rethink his repressed life, and before long he is contemplating a drastic change that will require a leap of faith he is still reluctant to take.

The film premiered in New York on Jan. 31.

And it’s premiered in Los Angeles one week later. Salanic has traveled widely in support of “José,” attending the Lido and festivals in Spain and Panama but the U.S. appears to be a step too far.

The U.S. embassy rejected his visa application twice. 

Efforts to bring Salanic to the U.S. have proved fruitless after the U.S. embassy in the Central American country rejected his non-immigrant visa applications. The embassy argued Salanic, who lives with his parents in Guatemala, could be a flight risk were he to enter the U.S. as he does not have a residence in Guatemala.

The premiere should have been a celebratory occasion for the film’s star.

The young newcomer named Enrique Salanic, should be celebrating the great success of his debut appearance. But instead it has become a senseless bureaucratic nightmare, the latest demonstration on the world stage of the current draconian stance on immigration and travel.

The actor’s first application was denied in November.

Salanic’s first visa application was made in November according to Paul Hudson, head of the film’s U.S. distributor, Los Angeles-based Outsider Pictures; the embassy rejected it, arguing that Salanic could be a flight risk if he were to enter the US. 

Hudson then sought the aid of Congressman Ted Lieu.

Congressman Lieu, wrote a personal letter on behalf of the young actor which was submitted with a second application. That request was also denied, with no apparent consideration of the congressman’s letter. According to Screen Daily, a copy of the embassy’s original rejection letter states that a requirement of a successful visa application is a residence in a foreign country which the applicant “has no intention of abandoning,” before going on to write, “You have not demonstrated that you have the ties that will compel you to return to your home country after your travel to the United States.”

Hudson, head of the film’s U.S. distributor, had something to say.

“Denying Enrique Salanic his entry visa to promote his work in a film produced, financed and distributed by American citizens and companies represents just one way in which the current administration’s immigration rules impact U.S. businesses, and it perpetuates the negative impression the world has of America. Denying entry to a man who has already successfully studied in the U.S. just because he is from Guatemala is unjust and cruel,” Outsider Pictures’ Paul Hudson told The Wrap.

Robert Rosenberg of Outsider Pictures also had an issue with the rejection of Salanic’s entry visa. 

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“It broke my heart that such a talented young actor like Enrique, who is the star of our movie, is being thwarted in pursuing his career by our own government in the U.S.,” Rosenberg told The Wrap. “Our policies should encourage this kind of ambition and success, not trap Central Americans in their countries, as if they were less than human.”

In a statement on the creation of the film, director Li Cheng discussed the movie’s cultural relevance.

“‘José’ is really a page ripped from today’s news headlines,” he said. “The crises of young people, single mothers and dark-skinned peoples in Guatemala frames the film’s story. Guatemala has become an increasingly violent and dangerous place, where more than half the people live in poverty. Indeed most of the children separated from their parents and locked in dog-like cages in Texas (shocking people around the world) are Guatemalan, not Mexican, as is often claimed.”

READ: Go Guatemala! You’re Finally on Your Way to the Oscars

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