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Star of queer Guatemalan drama ‘Jose’ denied US entry for film’s premiere

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Enrique Salenic stars in “José” (Image courtesy YQ Studio LLC/Outsider Pictures)

An award-winning Guatemalan film is about to make its US theatrical premiere – but thanks to aggressive US travel restrictions, its leading actor won’t be allowed to come.

“José,” directed by Chinese-born American filmmaker Li Cheng, won multiple awards internationally during 2018-2019 international festival circuit, including the prestigious Queer Lion award at the 75th Venice Film Festival. Made in a neorealist cinematic tradition, the film is described in press material as “a nuanced and vivid look at being gay in Central America.” It follows the title character, a closeted 19-year-old who lives an impoverished life with his street vendor mother in Guatemala City – 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 blossoming relationship pushes him to rethink his closeted life, and before long he is contemplating a drastic change that will require a leap of faith he is still reluctant to take. The movie is set to open in New York City on January 31, with a rollout to theaters across the rest of the US starting in February.

The premiere should be a joyous occasion for the film’s star, a young newcomer named Enrique Salanic, but instead it has become a senseless bureaucratic nightmare, the latest demonstration on the world stage of the current US administration’s draconian stance on immigration and travel – particularly when it comes to people from Latin American countries.

According to a report in Screen Daily, Salanic – who was educated in the US and has travelled extensively with the film to many of its international screenings – has twice been denied a non-immigrant travel visa by the US embassy in Guatemala.

The first application was made in November by Paul Hudson, head of the film’s US 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, who 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 the publication, 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 pronounce, “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.”

Salanic was educated in the US; he won a scholarship to study at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, which he did from August 2011-May 2015. He now lives with his parents in Guatemala, but does not have a residence of his own – meaning he does not meet the necessary criteria according to the letter of US policy.

Salanic has garnered much praise from critics for his performance in “José” – but with less than a week before the New York opening, and no indication from the US government that it is likely to make an exception to its hardline stance, it looks like he’ll be denied the opportunity to take a richly-deserved American victory lap with the movie that may well make him a star.

With or without Salanic, “José” will open at New York’s Quad Cinema on January 31, with a Los Angeles run to begin one week later, on February 7.

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PHOTOS: Safe Space

New LGBTQ+ party held at Black Cat

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A scene from the 'Safe Space' party at the Black Cat on Saturday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Safe Space 2: A Safer Space party was held at the Black Cat on Saturday, Dec. 3.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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PHOTOS: Holiday Show

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington perform annual concert at Lincoln Theatre

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A scene from the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington's 'Holiday Show.' (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington and the GenOUT Youth Chorus performed “The Holiday Show” at a dress rehearsal on Friday, Dec. 2 at Lincoln Theatre. The Chorus has performances scheduled for Dec. 9 and 11. For tickets and showtimes, visit gmcw.org.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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Theater

New Studio Theatre production explores misery of addiction

Slogging through the work of recovery in ‘People, Places & Things’

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Kristen Bush in ‘People, Places & Things.’ (Photo by Margot Schulman)

‘People, Places & Things’
Through Dec. 11
Studio Theatre
1501 14th St., N.W.
$65-$95
Studiotheatre.org

Meet Emma, working actor and addict.  

After a lot of hard partying and an onstage collapse, the relapsing heroine of Duncan Macmillan’s “People, Places & Things” devises a sort of strategy. She’ll do a short stint in rehab and get back to work as soon as possible, sort of breeze in and breeze out. But things don’t quite pan out as planned.  

In Macmillan’s superbly written and aptly named work (the title references a recovery slogan about triggers and relapse), the English playwright takes a lucid and, at turns, funny and mordantly perceptive look into the misery of addiction and the vicissitudes of recovery. At the center of his work is Emma — dishonest, witty, very toxic, but in spite of everything, likeable.  

At Studio Theatre, director David Muse succeeds in leading an inventive design team and strong cast, particularly Kristen Bush as wily Emma, in bringing this not unfamiliar but compellingly told tale to life. 

After a major professional screw up, (a wasted Emma implodes during a performance of Chekhov’s “The Seagull”), she voluntarily checks into a British clinic. At intake she’s still high and in an uncharacteristically honest moment, readily admits to having recently indulged in a panoply of pills, weed, coke, speed, and ibuprofen washed down with gin and a good bottle of Rioja.

Unsold on the 12 steps, she’s resistant. Still the show must go on – loads of therapy (one-on-one and group) and role-playing sessions ensue. The medical professionals, staff, and patients are played effectively by Nathan Whitmer, Lise Bruneau, Tessa Klein, Maboud Ebrahimzadeh, Emily Erickson, Derek Garza, Lynette R. Freeman, and the excellent David Manis. 

Jeanne Paulsen plays Emma’s helpful doctor and later and more startling, her mother. Jahi Kearse adds an inspiring presence as a fellow addict.

Watching an addict slog through the yeoman work of recovery, and in this case an unenthusiastic patient’s passage from detox to therapy to departure, isn’t anything new; but here, the unfolding journey feels fresh despite or maybe due to the protagonist’s dearth of pink cloud elation. There’s also a real true-to-lifeness about it. 

Studio’s new Victor Shargai Theatre has been configured as alley staging (it’s like a catwalk with banked seating on either side), making for an intimate experience. Debra Booth’s institutional grey set changes fairly seamlessly and entertainingly to different spaces, all interconnected in Emma’s recovery – a stage, an after-hours club evoking both allure and dread, offices, therapy rooms, and bedrooms. 

Lighting by Andrew Cissna and Lindsay Jones’s music contribute to a sometimes-unsettling mood. 

Macmillan wrote “People, Places & Things” with a meaty female role in mind. It premiered at London’s National Theatre in 2015 and moved to New York a couple of years later. The production proved a great success for everyone involved, including Denise Gough who created the role of Emma. Bush is garnering a similar reaction at Studio. 

As the action moves steadily toward an ending, contributing factors regarding Emma’s dysfunction are revealed – cold family, a brother’s death. Some definite headway is made. Still, there’s no denying that over turbulent years, she’s left some very hurt and disappointed colleagues and family in her frenzied drug fueled wake. 

The actor/addict leaves rehab markedly less messy. Reentering the world as a different Emma, she lands at the home of her unsympathetic parents, not the most cushiony place for a sober re-launch. 

Her future is unclear, and like her sobriety, can’t be taken for granted. 

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