Eight years in the making and chartering the day to day life of a black working class family from North Philadelphia, Quest is the brand new thought-provoking and thoroughly engaging documentary by director Jonathan Olshefski. This intimate account of race and class struggle carries with it an urgent set of sociopolitical ideas which are treated with a huge amount of tenderness, empathy and goodwill towards its subjects, not least from the director himself. Beginning at the dawn of the Obama presidency, the film allows those whose voices are never heard, to finally be part of modern political discourse, even if they claim to have never been interested in politics before.
Christopher “Quest” Rainey and his Wife Christine’a “Ma Quest” live in one of the poorest neighbourhoods of Philadelphia, but unlike the majority of those around them, the Raineys navigate their hardship and strife with a huge degree of optimism and hope. Juggling a paper delivery job by day, and his busy home studio by night, Quest has become a local celebrity of sorts, always willing to give young musicians and rappers a chance to be heard. Appearing regularly on local radio alongside his wife, Quest is often heard sharing his wisdom and words of encouragement to a neighbourhood ravaged by poverty and drug addiction.
When a stray bullet, meant for a local gang member, hits and almost kills their daughter in the street, Quest and Christine’a take it upon themselves to rally the neighbourhood around them and their traumatised daughter. Marching for an end to “black on black” and gun violence, their anger soon turns into positive action. As they manage to pick themselves off and start again time after time, it becomes apparent that the couple’s real strength is in the love and respect they have for each other and their children. All of this is set against Obama’s campaign for a second term and the fear and uncertainty felt by his supporters, and culminates with the dreadful prospect of an imminent Trump presidency.
Olshefski does a commendable job in honestly depicting these people’s lives year after year and always being present at the most crucial moments. Building a genuinely impressive narrative arc with highs, lows and everything in between, Olshefski and his team might have set out to make a more politically charged piece, but in the end it is the day-to-day stories which will eventually win audiences over. Ultimately, it is the Raineys and their contagious joie de vivre and philosophical outlook on life which will keep you hooked till the very end.
Quest is a brilliant exercise in subtlety and honest documentary making. Olshefski’s attachment to his subjects and their lives shines through in every frame and in every interview he conducts with them. He is never needlessly melodramatic nor does he ever feel the need to resort to controversy. Having said that, the film suffers from being a little on the long side and could perhaps have benefited greatly from a more thorough editing.
Quest is released on August 18th.