James Blanco won the Best Actor award at the 20th Asian Film Festival for his role in Daniel R. Palacio’s “Ang Matsing at ang Pagong” (The Monkey and the Turtle). The Filipino actor bested 17 other nominees for the top acting prize of the film festival held at Cinema Farnese in Rome, Italy from March 30, 2023 to April 5, 2023.
Film director Enzo Aronica, screenwriter Roberto Recchioni and journalist Marco Lodoli served as the jurors. In their own words, they selected Blanco “for how he manages to interpret, with passion but also with a series of important nuances, the character of a hero despite him, witnessing a reality in disguise, corrupt and violent”.
The 20th Asian Film Festival director Antonio Termenini presented the award, which was received by “Ang Matsing at ang Pagong ” producers Vanessa Joy Palacio and Hilque Dairo on behalf of Blanco. “Dream Palace” actress Kim Sun-Young of South Korea won Best Actress and “Barbarian Invasion” from Malaysia won Best Picture.
Written and directed by Daniel, “Ang Matsing at ang Pagong” is the debut project of M1 Films. The film represented the Philippines proudly as its message of social inequality echoed throughout Rome.
The viewers applauded Daniel for his tenacity in denouncing political issues in the Philippines. In the film, Blanco plays the role of a rural town’s vice mayor, challenging the incumbent chief for the mayoral position in the coming election.
“I gave James the freedom to respond and react with his own interpretation of the character,” Daniel revealed. “That’s why his creativity and natural acting shone on the film. He even challenged the script on one occasion, standing firm on the character’s mindset. I loved it! He’s just perfect for the role and for the story I co-wrote with my mentor Armando Bing Lao.”
M1 Films executive producer Oliver Sy was praised for choosing a powerful story with a powerful voice to start the company’s venture into the movie industry. He favored the Asian Film Festival, one of the most important film festivals in Europe, to hold the world premiere of the film with over 80,000 Filipinos in Rome.
Blanco’s award concluded a memorable event as overseas Filipino workers from different parts of Italy came to watch the film. They expressed gratitude and praise to the director as they shared their sentiments relating to the movie.
“We were watching our life story,” one teary-eyed Filipina shared. “Thank you for showing it here.”
Donna Celeste Feliciano-Gatmaytan, the consul general of the Philippine embassy in Rome, joined Daniel, Vanessa and Dairo at the film festival. Daniel welcomed the mostly Italian audience who were fascinated with his docu-drama cinema style and when asked by the Italian press if he plans to stay true to denouncing films in the future, he quipped, “There’s no other purpose of my film but that”.
“The words of appreciation from fellow Filipinos were accomplishments already,” Daniel continued. “The win was a cherry on top.”
Armando Lao, aside from co-writing the script, is the editor of “Ang Matsing at Ang Pagong” while Jeffrey Icawat and Jerel Travezonda are the cinematographers. Joining Blanco in the cast are Jana Victoria, Ryan Sandoval, Raquel Villavicencio, Cataleya Surio, Dido Dela Paz and Lou Veloso.