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Award-winning RP director making docu on Arnel and Journey

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by Ruben V. NepalesAriel Pineda
Philippine Daily Inquirer, Sept. 19, 2008

LOS ANGELES, California—Now it can be told: award-winning filmmaker Ramona Diaz is making a feature-length documentary on Journey that’s tentatively titled “Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey.”

Ramona, who won awards for her documentaries “Imelda” and “Spirits Rising,” shared with me the news via e-mail. She wrote, “This film is ultimately a snapshot of Journey at this moment in 2008 in its 30-plus year history, as it emerges with a new lead singer.” The band’s vocalist is, as everyone knows by now, Arnel Pineda.

 

In what is no doubt an exciting project, Ramona and her crew have been following Journey from rehearsals to concert stages. She said she has “full access to the band.” So far, the director who was born and raised in the Philippines but is now based in Maryland has been pleased with the cooperation of the band and their manager, John Baruck. “Arnel’s manager in the Philippines, Bert de Leon, has also been so cooperative,” Ramona added.

“What makes me really excited is that everyone is on board and understands what I’m trying to do with this film,” revealed the filmmaker, a graduate of Emerson College, with an M.A. in communications from Stanford University. It all began when Ramona thought that a documentary, especially on a veteran rock band like Journey as it continues to reassert itself in the music scene with a new vocalist, would make a fascinating film. She asked her manager, Peter McHugh, nephew of the late Sen. Rene Cayetano and son of Alice Cayetano McHugh, to broach the idea to the band’s manager, John Baruck.

The months-long negotiations eventually resulted in a dream project come true for Ramona. “We’ve been filming on and off since May and we’ll wrap in Manila when they perform in the spring.”

We are thrilled for Ramona, Arnel and the band—Neal Schon, Ross Valory, Jonathan Cain and Deen Castronovo. The documentary will be a milestone in the band’s long career, which has cultivated millions of rabid fans all over the world. The latest proof of the group’s staying power is the brisk sales of their latest, “Revelation,” making it Journey’s best-selling album since 1996’s “Trial by Fire.” The LA stop of their ongoing concert tour at the Greek Theatre has been changed from one to two nights (Sept. 28 and 30) due to overwhelming demand.

I have to admit that for many years now, when I’m driving alone and when any of the Journey staples blare on the radio, I sing, or perhaps more appropriately, scream along. It feels good, especially when I shout along to “Faithfully.” I laugh like crazy at myself afterward. I do recommend it—it’s a good release.

Ramona has her hands full. She is also busy with “The Learning,” another much-awaited project, which focuses on the plight of Filipino teachers who were recruited by the city of Baltimore to teach in its public schools. Of this docu, she said, “‘The Learning’ is full swing into post-production.”

Below are excerpts of my interview via e-mail with Ramona:

How did you approach the band for this project? What was their reaction, especially Arnel’s when he found out that it was a Filipina doing the documentary?

We approached the band through its management company. My manager, Peter McHugh (who also happens to be half-Filipino, half American-Irish) of The Gotham Group contacted their manager, John Baruck. It was months of negotiating back and forth and finally John Baruck understood the power of the story—after we had shown him a trailer of the first shoot we did with the band as they rehearsed in California in May. Now he’s our staunchest ally which is great because we can’t really do it without his support.

Arnel had heard that I wanted to do the film and of course, he was familiar with my past work. He thought it might actually work. He has been great.

What was your impression of Arnel when you first met him?

Arnel is the real thing. His size belies his power on stage—he owns that stage when he’s on it. As they say, “Ang lakas ng dating.” He’s a real star and the camera loves him. He also cares very much about doing right by the band and the fans. He truly understands and respects the legacy of Journey and he tries to honor that in every performance. I believe that where he’s come from and how far he’s gone is never far away from his thoughts.

On a personal level, Arnel is down-to-earth and realistic about all the hoopla that’s happening around him. Believe it or not, he’s still extremely humble—and it’s not pa-humble. I think this attitude is informed by his personal history. He’s been around and experienced a lot. I’ve also found him to be a profound thinker, a true artist in that way. So when I hear some people say that “He’s just a karaoke boy,” I’m thinking boy, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

When was your first filming? When and where will your final shooting be?

We started filming as they rehearsed right before they took off for Europe and we’ve been shooting on and off since that time. We’re hoping to wrap our shooting sometime in the spring when they tour Asia and of course, we’ll be there filming Journey’s concert in Manila.

When are you planning to release the documentary? Do you already have a distributor?

We’ll release the documentary late next year. No, we don’t have a distributor yet but everyone who’s seen the trailer is very interested. But like all documentaries, there is no set script and the filming is very organic so a lot of distributors don’t get involved until most of the filming is done. Emerging Pictures is on board as executive directors (Ira Deutchman and Josh Green). And I am also working with producers here in Baltimore—Whit Hauprich and Capella Fahoome—who are helping raise money through private investors. But we have the exclusivity on it—we’re the only ones making a documentary about this with the full support of Journey.

What is your overall slant? Is it the resurgence of Journey, as Jonathan (Cain) has said? How will Arnel Pineda be integrated into this group?

Of course, the hook is Arnel’s universal Cinderella story. Cinderella with a voice of gold meets rock ‘n’ roll icons through YouTube.

In addition, the songs play a big part in the film because they are anthemic and as a collective body of work, they have become part of the fabric of the aural environment.

What excites you most about this project?

I think the classic story of Arnel and also because the rest of the band and their managers are all participating and understanding what it is I’m trying to accomplish with the film. It’s also a chance to show how a working band does it, from the ground up—something they’ve been doing for the past 30 years.

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