Ramona Diaz remembers the moment during her college years that she realized she was destined to make movies.
"I was influenced by seeing Francois Truffaut's "Day for Night", a movie about a film director trying to get his movie made," said Diaz. "I was so enamored with it. It was such a romantic notion."
Diaz quickly switched her focus from photography to filmmaking and earned a master's degree in communication and documentary filmmaking from Stanford University.
Today Diaz, who was born in the Philippines and lives in Mt. Washington, is an award-winning documentary filmmaker known for her character-driven subjects that range from rock stars to dissidents.
Diaz is perhaps best known for her acclaimed documentary "Don't Stop Believin': Every Man's Journey" about the iconic 1980s rock band Journey and its new Filipino lead singer Arnel Pineda, whom the band discovered through YouTube.
Although Diaz had heard of the band Journey, she wasn't a diehard rock 'n' roll fan. Still, she was intrigued by Pineda's rags-to-riches story. After receiving an unsolicited email with a link to Pineda singing, Diaz was hooked.
"I met Arnel," said Diaz, whose films often spotlight Filipinos. "I knew he was a good person to have in a film. I really believed in him. He was what we call in the documentary world 'golden.'"
Diaz approached Journey's management about making a documentary. After submitting a a 10-minute test film, Diaz was given the green light by the band to make the movie.
"Don't Stop" opened in 2012 at the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival and had its international premiere at the Dubai Film Festival. The film was also screened at the Charles Theatre in Baltimore in 2013.
"She [Diaz] is an amazing asset for filmmaking," said Baltimore producer Capella Fahoome, who worked with Diaz on "Don't Stop." "As a producer I get to work with a lot of directors. Ramona is a visionary; she immerses herself in her projects. She's very willing to share knowledge and resources."
"Anytime I see a filmmaker, especially a woman, it's inspiring," said Amy Kozak, a Baltimore filmmaker and head of the Baltimore Documentary Group.
Diaz has been a juror at major film festivals around the world, including South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, the San Francisco International Film Festival and the Silverdocs Film Festival in Silver Spring.
In 2011, public television aired Diaz's film "The Learning," a documentary inspired by a series of Baltimore Sun articles by former reporter Sara Neufeld. The film followed the lives of four Filipino women who reluctantly leave their home to teach in Baltimore City schools.
Earlier this year, Diaz was one of three Baltimoreans to receive a prestigious 2016 Guggenheim Fellowship, along with musician Neil Feather and Johns Hopkins University professor Mitchell B. Merback. The fellowships are awarded annually to writers, performers and artists with proven track records and "exceptional promise."