Arnel Pineda’s ‘resilience’ should inspire Pinoys

'He knows he is living a fairytale but he knows how hard he had to work to get where he is now'

MANILA, Philippines – Arnel Pineda had the talent, but it was his “resilience” that enabled him to graduate from a Manila slum to world fame and recognition as lead singer of the legendary rock band Journey, according to acclaimed Filipina-American director Ramona S Diaz.

Arnel Pineda during his last concert with Journey in Manila. Photo courtesy of Cine Diaz Productions

Pineda is an example of “resilience of the human spirit and the power of talent. You may be discovered, but then you have to prove it,” said Diaz during a telephone interview with Rappler.

“I think Arnel has enormous talent, but he was also able to stay in the game, a very tough game indeed,” added the filmmaker, who wrote, directed and produced Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey, a story about Pineda’s rags-to-riches journey.

Amazing story

Pineda was only 12 years old when his mother died and was left homeless, singing for food and sleeping on the streets.

Later on, he became successful enough as a musician to migrate to Hong Kong, where he performed for 15 years before returning to the Philippines in 2006.

Back in Manila, he was again singing in small bars for the cover band The Zoo, until a video posted by a fan on Youtube caught the attention of Journey guitarist Neil Schon, who invited Pineda to be their new lead singer and go on tour with the group.

Pineda (center) with fellow Journey band members in Manila. Photo courtesy of Cine Diaz Productions

“His story is amazing, he himself is an amazing character — the combination of both is a magical formula for a film that really works. It hits all the right notes,” said Diaz about the star of her latest documentary, which premiered in April 2012 at New York’s prestigious Tribeca Film Festival.

The filmmaker also believes that Pineda is a true Filipino in the sense that he is very realistic and at the same time very optimistic.

“He knows he is living a fairytale but he knows how hard he had to work to get where he is now. It is a very Filipino quality and the one that resonates most with me,” said the director of the documentary, which opened a month ago in theaters across the United States. It will soon be shown in Europe and finally the Philippines.

Mature audience

Diaz belongs to the new generation of independent Filipino directors who tend to be more popular abroad than in the Philippines, such as Brillante Mendoza, but she disagrees with those who believe the local audience is not ready for this type of movies.

“I was born and raised in the Philippines, so I grew up in what, for me, was the Golden Age of Filipino cinema, through Lino Brocka and other directors. That is my memory of Filipino films. Fortunately now there are a lot of independent Filipino films coming out, and that is great. Because they are forging their own path, they don’t have to come up with the melodrama formula,” she explained.

Diaz said that these new movies “respect the audience and believe the audience can understand more profound films.”

“It has to start with someone. They have found that the audience is smarter than what most people think. I never underestimate my audience.”

According to the director, “it is difficult to be seen in this day and age, but there is space, and people will come out and watch independent films” like her first feature-length documentary: Imelda (2003).

Imelda, her “beyond the shoes” portrayal of the former First Lady, not only won in 2004 an award for Best Cinematography at the Sundance Film Festival, but was also a huge success at the box office in the Philippines. It even prompted the former First Lady to ask a court to ban the movie.

Future plans

Diaz is currently working on her next documentary, based on the book, Pacific Rims by Rafe Bartholomew about Filipinos’ love for basketball.

On top of that, she has developed such a strong connection to Arnel Pineda that both are currently developing a story for a narrative film that would star him. This project is, however, still in its initial stages and more details will not be available for a few months.

If she were given “unlimited creative control,” she told Rappler that she would love to do “a period narrative in the Philippines, but not in olden times, maybe the 60s”.

Nevertheless and in spite of this focus on her native country, she has no plans to return in the future.

“I have considered going back, but my husband is here, my daughter was raised here. I will visit, but I don’t think I’ll ever live there. You go where family takes you.” –

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