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Michaelangelo Masangkay’s ‘TOPAKK’ to Mark World Premiere at Prestigious Locarno Film Fest

Toronto Film School’s Director of Production Michaelangelo Masangkay will celebrate the world premiere of his latest film in Switzerland next week at the prestigious Locarno Film Festival.

TOPAKK – which marks Masangkay’s first credit as a full-fledged producer – is a Filipino action feature that follows an ex-special forces operative who suffers from PTSD as he attempts to save the life of a woman who is being hunted by a corrupt police death squad.

Masangkay characterized the film’s inclusion amongst the 214 films slated to be screened over the course of the 76thedition of the esteemed Locarno festival, which runs from Aug. 2-12, “unheard of” for an action film.

“Locarno is one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world, and usually it’s known for arthouse films, not for action gore films,” he said, noting his pride at being able shine a spotlight on Filipino genre films at such a big event.

“Right now, TOPAKK is the most historical Filipino action film that’s ever come out of the Philippines, because no other Filipino action or genre film has stepped outside of the country and done this well.”

While Masangkay has worked in the business for years, serving as an associate or line producer on many films through his role as General Manager of Raven Banner Entertainment, TOPAKK is the first film he’s taken on as his own.

From being approached with the proposal for the film at last year’s Cannes Film Festival in May 2022, to filming it in the Philippines in December 2022, to turning it around in post-production quickly enough to premiere this month at Locarno – the experience so far, Masangkay said, has been “amazing.”

“This is the first time I’ve produced my own film. I was always an associate producer, so it was never my skin in the game,” he said, noting that it was through those past experiences, however, that he learned the pathway to success.

“I never positioned myself to produce my own, but when the opportunity to produce TOPAKK came to me, I took it. In retrospect, it was something that was a long time coming.”

With a budget of just $650,000 US, Masangkay credits the film’s success so far to “good timing,” as genre films like action, thrillers, horrors and sci fi continue to emerge as a legitimate art form unto themselves.

“Right now, genre films are becoming more widely accepted on the cinema side – they’re now starting to get their dues as an actual art form,” he said.

“Genre films are, in my opinion, some of the most transferrable and universal types of cinema, because the language of fear is universal. It’s not like comedy, where it’s different in different places. I think the same things scare us as humans, no matter where we are in the world.”

Also helping the Tagalog-language film find an audience outside of the Philippines, Masangkay said, is the ‘human element’ – the actors’ performances.

TOPAKK’s stars include Arjo Atayde, who also happens to be the youngest-ever congressman in the Philippines, as well as Julia Montes, Kokoy De Santos, and Sid Lucero, among others – all of whom “nailed” their performances, he added.

Most of those actors, along with the film’s director, Richard Somes, co-producer, Will Fredo, and Masangkay’s Raven Banner colleague and fellow TFS instructor Michael Paszt, will be on hand in Switzerland for TOPAKK’s big debut at Locarno, where it will hit the big screen during four screenings on Aug. 7, 8 and 9.

While the film has already been sold in advance for theatrical release to Korea, India, Russia, the Baltics and German-speaking Europe, Masangkay’s ultimate goal while at Locarno is to sell TOPAKK to a multinational such as Sony, Universal, MGM, Amazon or Netflix.

“There’s already interest in all of the English-speaking territories of the world – the US separately, the UK separately, and Australia and New Zealand separately, what we’re hoping for is an all-encompassing company to take all of those territories,” he explained.

Masangkay is also taking all the behind-the-scenes business lessons he’s learning over his experience as a first-time producer into the classroom at TFS.

“Everything I’ve been teaching at school is literally what I’ve applied to what is now happening with my own film,” he said, relishing the opportunity to give his students a live, insider look at the industry they’re about to enter.

“I said to the students I’m with this term, ‘You guys are in a very unique position, because you’re going to see all of this happen in real time.’”

As for when his students will be able to watch TOPAKK on the big screen here in Canada, Masangkay said he’s hopeful the film will be accepted into the upcoming Toronto Reel Asian Film Festival. In the meantime, he’s planning to organize a private screening for the TFS community.

Stay tuned!

Cynthia Reason

Cynthia Reason (she/her) is a former newspaper journalist turned communications professional who currently works as Toronto Film School’s Manager of Communications. Prior to joining TFS, she spent 13 years working as a reporter for Torstar/Metroland Media Toronto, writing for publications including Toronto.com, the Etobicoke Guardian, and the Toronto Star, among others. Her byline has also appeared in the National Post. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Guelph and Post-Graduate Diploma in Journalism from Humber College.

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