Let the song puns begin! Steve Perry is the “Faithfully” recognized voice of the band Journey, but he and the band actually went their “Separate Ways” years ago. Welcomed with “Open Arms” to replace him is young Arnel Pineda, a Filipino who in 2007 was asked to audition after Journey guitarist Neal Schon saw videos of his cover band on YouTube.
The whole thing may smack of a reality TV gimmick, but consider this: Arnel is good. So good that you probably can’t tell the difference between Perry and him from listening. Add in the bonus that Arnel is extremely charismatic and likable, and you have an ’80s band with literally a new lease on life.
“Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’” the Arnel–fueled renaissance of Journey is Ramona Diaz, a Filipina documentary filmmaker previously best known for her film about Imelda Marcos. Her film Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey comes to the Savannah Film Festival (with producer Capella Fahoome Brogden in attendance for the Q&A). We spoke to Diaz a couple of weeks ago.
This doesn’t seem like the most obvious idea for a rock documentary. What attracted you to this story?
Ramona Diaz: I was attracted to the story because Arnel’s quite a personality. The camera loves him. People really root for him — they really want him to succeed. And then you’ve got that great story coupled with the songs of Journey. I knew their songs but I didn’t follow them closely. Journey is one of the bands where people say they don’t know their songs, but when they hear them they do know.
I’d seen a couple of short segments on TV about Arnel but never thought there’d be a film about it.
Ramona Diaz: Well, this is very different. There’s not a lot of narration. We’re able to make the music work in our favor — every time you hear it, it’s kind of evergreen, you know?
There are all these “Top 100 Artists of Whatever” lists now, and Journey is never on any of them. But they were incredibly huge back in their day.
Ramona Diaz: They’ve never been loved or appreciated by critics. But as we were making the film we realized how groundbreaking they really were. They were the first to use big video screens so that people in the nosebleed sections could see the band. Now everyone does it. They were the first to sign national sponsors onto their big tours. Now everyone does it. Everything they did was ahead of their time in some way.
You guys got some extraordinary access for this film. Did that ever pose problems between the film crew and the band?
Ramona Diaz: It was a lot of fun, but still a difficult process. We were a small crew following a big act. They had their big tour buses, and we were always in one small minivan following them around.
We needed to gain their trust in order for this to work. We spent so much time with them — it’s not like we were just coming in for two days and going away. We were there for months and months! At one point Neal Schon looked up and said, “You’re still here?”
Is there a risk of being too close and losing objectivity?
Ramona Diaz: You do get close to them. You do form relationships. But at the end of the day it’s you holding the camera.
Because making docs is so demanding and often thankless, I like to ask documentary filmmakers their advice for aspiring directors.
Ramona Diaz: You gotta believe in the story. It’s a long haul, it’s always a marathon. If you don’t love your story you’ll never be as successful as you want to be. You have to believe in it so much that it’s almost a situation where if you don’t tell that story, it will haunt you forever.
Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey screens Oct. 31 at 11:30 a.m. at the Trustees Theater.