One of our best reviewed festival films for 2018 makes its way to New York City theaters on Friday December 8, then Los Angeles on December 15, with a wider national rollout to follow.
Quest is a group portrait of the Rainey family: patriarch Christopher aka “Quest,” whose passion to keep open his music studio as an outlet for self-determination, sanctuary, and healing in his community is juxtaposed by the odd jobs he has to take to support his own family, matriarch Chirstine’a, known affectionately as Ma, who supports Quest in his journey while working tirelessly at a local homeless shelter and trying to take care of both her son William, who is undergoing brain cancer treatment while trying to raise his newborn son, and the endearing PJ, Christopher and Chirstine’a’s independently-minded daughter.
While the family seems somewhat typical on the outside, especially for their North Philadelphia neighborhood, what makes their story standout is their love and understanding for one another, a love not often depicted in “urban” focus documentaries. Just as important however is director Jonathan Olshefski’s constant, vérité gaze of respect and admiration, but still a critical outside look, of the Raineys.
The pacing of Quest is what works best for it. The film takes its time to allow you to feel the triumphs and the mundanity of the Rainey’s lives. And even when it goes down what may be seen as a typical “ghetto narrative” (a literal tearjerker of a moment), it is the actual world and their circumstances telling the story, not the filmmakers own. Most of all, the Raineys stand out because they do not define themselves by their circumstances, they define themselves by how they circumvent them and stay together as a unit. And that unit is not independent of their community, it’s stronger because of it.
Still, I almost did not go see this film. Though I possess a critical eye no matter the subject, I am wary of white directors and their oftentimes troubling gaze into the inner workings of the Black community. But Quest is not that at all. Olshefski’s intimate perspective is genuine, and he notes his outsider status as an artist who began photographing the Rainey’s studio simply to share their hopeful community message for North Philly, but felt he had to do more to share the story of these incredible individuals and family.
Olshefski notes that, “Over the years I have often been asked, “What right do you have, as a white man, to make a film about a Black community?” I don’t know if I am the one to answer that question. I made the film and I stand by my choices, but I don’t think I have any inherent right and I am very aware of the long history of privileged filmmakers going into communities that are not their own to take stories and craft them for other audiences outside of the community. This can be an incredibly destructive process and marginalize the place and its people, especially when it is a place that was already marginalized.”
No doubt that some of his perspective may have been shaped by his award winning producer, the versatile Sabrina Schmidt Gordon. Most recently known as director of the documentary BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez, her prior claims to fame are as co-producer and editor of DOCUMENTED, about undocumented journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, and Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, directed by Byron Hurt and which premiered at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival.
QUEST (105 min.) makes its NYC theatrical premiere at the Quad Cinema this Friday, December 8th.