All good things need to come to a close and so does the 55th year of the San Francisco International Film Festival. After two weeks of bringing films from all around the film to the Bay Area it’s only fitting they should end with a film that expresses just that.

And what better than a documentary about Bay Area classic rock giants  Journey finding their new lead singer in Manilla?

A still from Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey courtesy of SFIFF.

Closing night is always a bittersweet event. SFIFF packs so much great film, events, speakers and parties into its run that it feels like there’s never enough time to really grasp it. But that’s just the nature of the beast. But the crowd was packed into the Castro Theatre last night, the same place where the festival kicked off a mere 14 days ago. As with the opening night Interim Executive Director Melanie Blum spoke and thanked everyone from her staff to the audience. Then Programming Director Rachel Rosen took the stage and invited up Ramona Diaz to introduce her film Don’t Stop Believin: Everyman’s Journey. Her film chronicles Journey’s Revelation Tour in 2008 and the welcoming of their new singer from Manilla, Arnel Pineda. Then the lights went down but one could still feel the electricity amongst the crowd.

Don’t Stop Believin: Everyman’s Journey is almost a real life Rock Star (remember that film with Marky Mark?) minus the sex and drugs leaving only the rock ‘n’ roll. Without a lead singer to record their new album Revelations, guitarist Neal Schon scoured the internet, namely YouTube, in hopes of finding an acceptable replacement for the infamous Steve Perry. Stumbling across nearly 60 videos of a band from Manilla, in the Philippines, featuring lead singer Arnel Pineda he felt that had found who he’d been looking for. In what seemingly only happens in films (again, think Rock Star) Pineda was e-mailed by Schon to come to the US and audition for the band. What makes the film really rise above trivialities is Pineda’s incredibly down to Earth attitude. Obviously excited and nervous by the incredible turn of events he takes it all in stride. With a 25 year singing career in his home country he was prepared to make the trip, meet his favorite band and return to his normal life. Instead, he was hired after just a few days as Journey’s new, permanent lead singer. What follows is his whirlwind assimilation into the band, his newfound fame and even the American lifestyle. Despite becoming quickly weary of the never ending travelling, which is quite humbling, he never lets doubts, frustrations or home sickness get the best of him. He’s the supreme optimist with one foot always on the ground. He knows he’s living a dream and he’s constantly intent on making sure he knows who he is and where he came from. It’s not just a film about rock music and Journey, it’s a film about dreams come true and how to deal with the consequences of obtaining that dream.

As the lights slowly came up and the crowd applauded thunderously, eight chairs were brought on stage an everyone waited anxiously for what they knew was coming. One by one the night’s guests were invited onstage. First the film’s director, Ramona Diaz, followed by all five members of Journey: Arnel Pineda, Neal Schon, Jonathan Cain, Ross Valory and Deen Castronovo. While it was a night meant to celebrate film, which it did, it was also a night to celebrate San Francisco and the Bay Area and what better way to do that than spending it with one of the cities most celebrated bands? As in the film, Pineda was supremely humble and had a grinned plastered to his face throughout the Q&A that followed as his band and audience members alike complimented not only his incredible voice but his incredible optimism and upbeat composure throughout all that had happened to him. Being literally plucked out of obscurity from across the world, Pineda still hasn’t lost his excitement. One audience member even asked about “the haters” who refuse to accept Journey without Steve Perry. As a fan of Perry’s, Pineda answered, he understands their frustration but all he can do is do what he does best — sing — and hope that he can convince them to follow this new incarnation. At one point the theatre went silent as Pineda took a request from the crowd to stand up and sing a cappella. Even his band members of nearly 4 years now were visibly wowed by his performance. But the night was soon over and the San Francisco International Film Festival’s 55th year was officially done. Still it had one of it’s best years in recent memory, offering not only nights like last night, but a plethora of quality films from around the world and made San Francisco the center of the universe for 2 weeks. It’ll be another year until the festival returns but there’s still plenty to talk about from this year.

Wednesday night this year’s Golden Gate Award Winners were announced, most of which carry a hefty cash prize in addition to the prominence of the award itself, a list of which can be found below:

New Director’s Prize: Policeman, Nadav Lapid (Israel  2011).  $15,000 cash prize.

Honorable Mention: OK, Enough, Goodbye., Rania Attieh, Daniel Garcia (Lebanon/UAE 2010).

Documentary Feature: It’s the Earth Not the Moon, Gonçalo Tocha (Portugal 2011).  $20,000 cash prize.

Honorable Mention: Meanwhile in Mamelodi, Benjamin Kahlmeyer (Germany/South Africa 2011).

Bay Area Documentary Feature: The Waiting Room, Peter Nicks (USA 2011). $15,000 cash prize and $2,000 lab services from EFILM Digital Laboratories.

FIPRESCI Prize: The Exchange, Eran Kolirin (Israel/Germany 2011).

Short Film Award Winners:

Narrative Short: Surveillant, Yan Giroux (Canada 2011). $5,000 cash prize.

Documentary Short: I’m Never Afraid!, Willem Baptist (Netherlands 2011). $5,000 cash prize.

Animated Short: Belly, Julia Pott (England 2011). $2,000 cash prize.

Bay Area Short, First Prize: Aquadettes, Zackary Canepari, Drea Cooper (USA 2011). $2,000 cash prize.

Bay Area Short, Second Prize: Workers Leaving the Googleplex, Andrew Norman Wilson (USA 2011). $1,500 cash prize.

New Visions: 20Hz, Ruth Jarman, Joseph Gerhardt (England 2011). $1,500 cash prize.

Family Film: The Storyteller, Nandita Jain (England 2011). $1,500 cash prize.

Family Film Honorable Mention: The Vacuum Kid, Katie Mahalic (USA 2011).

Youth Work: Metro, Eric Brownrout, Nick Escobar (USA 2011). $1,500 cash prize.

Youth Work Honorable Mention: Life as a Collage, Forrest Penrod (USA 2011).

For more information on this year’s award winners and other films screened at the festival, visit SFIFF’s official website.