This year’s Silverdocs opens tonight with Don’t Stop Believin’, a film about Journey and its hurricane-voiced Filipino frontman, Arnel Pineda. But as I noted in my intro to Washington City Paper‘s package of Silverdocs reviews, it isn’t the first documentary about these titans of middle-of-the-road arena rock. Almost two decades ago, the band chronicled its 10th year together in Frontiers and Beyond, which was made by NFL Films and narrated by John Facenda, who describes Journey and its crew with such triumphalist language as “70 modern-day troubadours and roustabouts, crisscrossing the country in seven tractor trailers and three buses, towing the portable pieces of state-of-the-art rock ‘n’ roll theater.” The movie makes much of the fact that then-frontman Steve Perry has grown a mustache. You can’t see Frontiers and Beyond at Silverdocs, but you can watch the whole thing right here.
Like Journey in 1983, Silverdocs is celebrating its first decade—-and on solid footing, to hear its director, Sky Sitney, tell it. This year’s slate features 114 short and feature films, and for the past several years the festival has drawn 27,000 butts to its seats, according to its own numbers. During its first year, 2003, that number was 10,000.
Several years ago, with sponsorships receding, Silverdocs had to get somewhat thrifty (the party spreads got less decadent, basically). Although she won’t disclose the festival’s budget, Sitney says the festival has now “reached a particular level and no matter what the climate is economically, we can maintain a certain size.”
The hope, Sitney says, is for a Silverdocs that isn’t necessarily expansionist, but instead grows creatively—by booking films that are hybrids of narrative and nonfiction, or expands documentary’s parameters in other ways. The festival’s concurrent conference has begun to emphasize transmedia—work that stretches across platforms. Silverdocs also has a growing evangelist role, Sitney says, a mission to expand the audience for documentary film. That might explain Journey.
Don’t Stop Believin’ is supposed to be pretty good, by the way—-so writes Tricia Olszewski in our Silverdocs package:
Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey opens with the crystal vocals of “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart),” but at first, it’s impossible to discern whether we’re listening to Steve Perry, the best-known singer of Journey, or his most recent replacement, a Filipino man named Arnel Pineda. Considering Perry’s singular tenor—he’s called “The Voice” for a reason—that’s incredible. So is most of Ramona S. Diaz’s doc, which chronicles how Pineda was plucked from a cover band in Manila to head one of rock’s biggest groups—then do it so well that Journey continues to sell out stadium shows here and abroad. Pineda is a tiny firecracker, seemingly indefatigable onstage and bursting with personality off it, and one can’t sit through the documentary without smiling at him. (Unless, of course, you really, really, really hate Journey. But if you do, why are you watching?)
The film shows tonight at 7 p.m. at the AFI Silver Theatre, and is followed by a discussion moderated by Washington Post pop critic Chris Richards and featuring Journey guitarist Neal Schon, Diaz, producer Capella Fahoome, Sitney, AFI President Bob Gazzale; and Pineda (via Skype).