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Silverdocs Review: “Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey”

Ian Buckwalter reviews the festival’s opening-night feature, which looks at the rags-to-riches tale of Journey’s new lead singer.

A scene from Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey. Image courtesy of Silverdocs.

Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey

Screens tonight, June 18, at 7 PM, and Sunday, June 24, at 12:15 PM

Picking the opening-night film for a documentary film
festival is no easy task. With festivals that specialize in narrative
film, it tends to be about whose name will look best on the
marquee opening night. But documentary filmmaking has precious
few celebrity directors, so that changes the rules a little.
Add to that the fact that such a large percentage of documentaries
focus on extremely depressing socio-political issues, and that
reduces your options further; after all, these screenings are
usually followed by opening-night parties, and no one’s really
in the mood for hors d’oeuvres and small talk after watching
a vivid two-hour dissection of brutal genocide in a Third World
country. The mandate: Keep it light.

In that spirit, the opening night of the annual AFI/Discovery Channel Silverdocs festival this evening offers up a film that
follows in the tradition of recent opening-night picks like
The Swell Season and
More Than a Game, sidestepping politics for music/sport and offering a film that’s light on insight but big on emotion. This year’s selection,
Ramona S. Diaz’s
Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey, documents the rock band Journey as they assimilate a new lead singer,
Arnel Pineda, into the mix for a new tour and
new albums. The hook? Pineda was but a poor, struggling cover band
singer in the Philippines
when Journey discovered him via YouTube—and he’s now suddenly
the frontman of one of the most iconic touring bands in the

The basic statement of purpose for the film is articulated up front by the band’s keyboardist and rhythm guitarist,
Jonathan Cain: “How do you take a guy from the Third World and throw him in the rock-and-roll circus?” With that in mind, the film starts
out showing how late one night while looking at Journey cover bands on YouTube, lead guitarist
Neal Schon stumbled on a slew of low-quality videos a friend of Pinedas’s had uploaded. The videos weren’t great, but Pineda’s voice?
Impressive enough that the band flew him to San Francisco to audition.

He gets the gig, and the film, on the heels of that teaser
from Cain, sets itself up as the small-town boy’s struggle to deal
with the pressures and culture shock of suddenly touring with a
major rock band. (If you’re wondering to yourself how Journey
still qualifies as a major band nearly three decades after
their last hit, consider for a moment that their iconic “Don’t
Stop Believin’” is the single most downloaded track on iTunes
in history. They can still sell out 15,000-seat arenas around
the world.) Unfortunately, the filmmakers run into a bit of a
problem here: Apart from the usual fatigue of the road, a head
cold, and missing home and his family, Pineda appears to have
it just fine.

He’s nerve-wracked before his first show, but it goes
smoothly, despite the band’s insistence that he jumped around too much.
He talks about the temptations of the road but appears to have
zero trouble ignoring them. At the end of the day, this is
a simple feel-good story about a guy who is the manifestation
of Willy Wonka’s line near the end of Charlie and the Chocolate
factory: “Remember what happened to the man who suddenly found
out that he got everything that he ever wanted? He lived happily
ever after.”

Without any real conflict, there’s about enough story
here for 45 minutes to an hour of movie, after which the filmmakers
pad it out to a full hour and a half with a brief history of
Journey pre-Pineda and scattered scenes from the tour and Pineda’s
new life with a big house and security back in the Philippines.
The film isn’t entirely memorable, and gets a little repetitive
after a while, but it will put a smile on your face and warm
fuzzies in your heart—which, for opening night, is exactly what
the festival is looking for.

For more information about this week’s festival, visit