Quest

Review by David Jenkins @daveyjenkins

Directed by

Jonathan Olshefski

Starring

Anticipation.

Some good buzz generated from its Sundance premiere.

Enjoyment.

Humane and constantly surprising.

In Retrospect.

The Raineys are a family you’ll want to remain in touch with.

This poetic, deeply moving portrait of a working class Philadelphia family spans nearly a decade.

It would be something of an understatement to describe Jonathan Olshefski’s wonderful, freewheeling documentary, Quest, as a labour of love, because the effort this industrious director underwent to collect the footage we see here is nothing short of heroic. He spent the best part of ten years in the company of North Philadelphia’s Rainey clan: no-nonsense matriarch Christine’a; peppy tomboy daughter PJ; and kind-hearted patriarch Christopher, whose adopts the alter-ego Quest when manning the production desk of his basement music studio.

Initially, Olshefski co-opted the Raineys as the subject of an urban photography project, then he wanted something more, and so he began to document their surprisingly eventful lives on film. Then, when he thought his time with them had come to a natural close, real life intervened and he quickly returned with his cameras ready to roll. An extraordinary and horrific incident which occurs at the film’s mid-point is a testament to art of patient observation and how it’s not just the job of a filmmaker to leach from the misery of others, but to delicately supply context for that suffering.

The result is a seamless compression of time in which this supremely stoical working class black family roll with the punches of poverty, puberty and the fact that their neighbourhood has apparently fallen between the cracks of government intervention. On the 4th July everyone goes to gawp at the local fireworks display, but for the remainder of the year, deafening fire-cracks are supplied by live rounds being discharged between criminals and drug users. The film begins with the family gathered around their small television set and air-punching as Barack Obama is inaugurated as President of the USA. It comes to an ominous close as the baton is handed to Donald Trump, with His Orangeness barking to black voters: “what have you got to lose?”

A massive amount is the answer to that ill-concieved cat call, as the Raineys are a family who channel a massive amount of their humble resources into doing what they can to enhance the fragile ecosystem of their community. Christopher hosts a famous open mic night where latchkey teens gather to have their rhymes recorded and produced. They’re not being fast-tracked to fame or anything like that, just being told that there are people out there willing to give them a leg-up in life. When the going gets tough, they don’t need to resort to violence as a means to an end.

It’s a moving and meandering work about everyday struggles and the responsibilities that come from being part of a family. It also offers a subtle comparison between what you might call biological and civic families, and the the different types of love we can and should extend towards one another.

Published 11 Aug 2017

Anticipation.

Some good buzz generated from its Sundance premiere.

Enjoyment.

Humane and constantly surprising.

In Retrospect.

The Raineys are a family you’ll want to remain in touch with.

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