‘Don't Stop Believin’ Review: Rousing ‘Journey’ Doc Rocks Tribeca

A little-known cover band frontman from the Philippines lives the dream as Journey's lead singer in a rousing documentary

One of the most successful rock bands in the world needs a new singer. The group goes to YouTube to find him, hiring a little-known cover band frontman from the Philippines.

That’s the story — and it’s a terrific one — told in “Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey,” a compelling documentary that had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival late last week and will screen twice more this week.

The movie recalls “Metallica: Some Kind of Monster” (2004) and “Anvil! The Story of Anvil” (2008), both well-regarded documentaries that followed the travails of veteran bands in transition. What comes through in all three films is the hard work, dedication and creative drive of the musicians shown, even if their end product isn’t necessarily High Art.

In 2007, Journey, the veteran, mega-selling band, needed a new lead vocalist. Guitarist Neal Schon spent hours surfing YouTube looking for the right one. Just when he was about to give up, he spotted Filipino singer Arnel Pineda crooning one of Journey’s anthems.

Pineda was, pardon the expression, a talented, 40-year-old journeyman singer who had spent years fronting bands in his hometown of Manila and then in Hong Kong. In late 2007, he was back in Manila after recovering from problems with alcohol and drugs, and his career was going nowhere fast. He was considering giving up on performing when Journey contacted him by sending an email — Pineda thought at first that it was a hoax – to the friend who had posted the YouTube videos.

Pineda flew to San Francisco to audition for the band, and in 2008, he was touring and recording with them. Today, he is a full-fledged member of the band, which continues to record and sell out arenas on its worldwide concert tours.

It’s a heck of a story, and one that director Ramona S. Diaz, who was born in the Philippines but was raised in the U.S., was quick to recognize as having potential when she heard early on that Journey had contacted Pineda. “Pretty soon I was talking to his manager, who was saying ‘not this year, maybe next year,’ and I said ‘no, this is the year you have to do the story,’” she says.

She spent two years making the film, following along as Pineda rehearsed with the band, triumphed during his first concert tour, and showed band members around Manila — including the park where he had slept while homeless during his hardscrabble youth — when they arrived for a concert in his hometown.

“I grew up with Journey songs,” says Diaz, when asked if she was a fan before she made the film, her first feature-length documentary. “Now I have a newfound respect for what they do. Those songs work ever time.”

In the film, Pineda switches between English and Tagalog, his native tongue, often speaking the latter when at his most reflective. “He’s very articulate about his inner life,” Diaz says, explaining the decision to use the Tagalog interviews and simply add subtitles. “I speak both and I realized that he was more comfortable in Tagalog. I don’t think he would have been that animated and expressive in English.”

The 113-minute film is seeking distribution, with domestic sales being handled by Josh Green at Game 7 Films and foreign rights by Ryan Kampe at Visit Films.

“There’s a lot of interest for theatrical distribution,” says Diaz.