Filipino filmmaker Ramona Diaz’s ‘Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey’, is a feature length documentary about Filipino singer Arnel Pineda, whose videos on YouTube led him to become the front man of Journey, the quintessential American band with eight platinum-certified albums to their credit. Having overcome a life full of painful obstacles and now saddled with the immense pressure of leading a world-renowned band and replacing a legendary singer, the film, which showed at the Dubai International Film Festival, follows Pineda’s personal journey as he is catapulted from relative obscurity into the dizzying heights of rock’n’roll stardom and frenzied celebrity back home.
Diaz, producer, director and writer of the documentary, is a filmmaker whose credits include ‘Spirits Rising’, an hour-long documentary about women’s role in the 1986 People Power revolution in the Philippines. Her first feature-length film, ‘Imelda’, about the former First Lady of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos, garnered the Excellence in Cinematography Award for documentary at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival.
tabloid! sits down with Diaz to talk about her film at this year’s DIFF.
Q: With so many Filipino singers why have you chosen Arnel Pineda’s life story? What makes it unique?
A: I’ve learned about Arnel Pineda being hired by Journey through an email circulating within the Filipino community from the immigration officer who gave him his visa to go to the US to audition. The officer described Arnel singing for his visa because he really needed to prove to the immigration officer that he can really sing. So I thought what a story. He was discovered on YouTube and he auditioned for one of the biggest American rock bands and he gets it – so how can I not make the story?
My inspiration was the story itself and Arnel. I think his story is unique – he was in Manila and was about to give up. One of his biggest fans posted his video on YouTube then he was discovered. It was unique because that time he was no longer looking for big fame. The famous Journey song ‘Don’t Stop Believin’, that is Arnel. He never stops believing in his talent, in faith, in life.
Q: How receptive was the band Journey about you making this film about Arnel and them?
A: It took a while for the band to really sign on, really understand that we really need to follow them for the entire summer. It took a while for them to get used to me being with them every day. Later on they just blended. I think there was mutual trust, they trusted that I could tell the story and after that we were fine.
Q: Can you talk of any particular challenge during the production?
A: There were so many challenges during the production. Shooting a documentary is always challenging. I think the big challenge was that Journey is a big band and they are big business and a very well-oiled machine. I think it’s very challenging for us to be included in that. It was also challenging for them to make room for us.
Q: How long did it take you to make and finally release the movie?
A: We started 2008, we filmed for two years. We followed them the entire summer, then we followed Arnel in Manila. We also filmed the other band members in their hometown. Then we filmed them again in their studio as they recorded their second album. We premiered in Tribeca in New York early this year in April. In total we did the movie in four years.
Q: What makes this documentary different or unique from what you’ve done before?
A: This documentary is really different from my other documentaries because it’s really a feel good documentary. When you watch it, the songs are familiar and you leave the theatre feeling good. It is a triumphant film. It’s a Cinderella story with a happy ending. It also sends the spirit of not giving up – of always hoping, of always striving.