A Family’s Story
“Quest” follows an African-American family over a five-year period in inner city Philadelphia beginning with the wedding day of Christopher and Christine’a Rainey. Christopher is a struggling rap producer working odd jobs on the side and Chrstine’a is a health-care worker with both physical and emotional scars. Because they both had sometimes neglected their children from previous relationships, the Raineys are determined to do the right thing for their young daughter Patricia.
The film is a detailed family study and meditation on the power of love and understanding, and the importance of continuing the struggle against long odds. There is violence in the Raineys’ neighborhood but the community members rally around each other. At one point, Christine’a watches as a campaigning Donald Trump describes the black communities of America as a “complete disaster”.
Director Jonathan Olshefski begins his film in 2008 when Barack Obama first ran for president of the United States, until the presidential election last autumn and gives us a microcosm of America as the hopeful dream is lost with the election of Trump. Olshefski takes us so deep into this family’s world and we see that poor black people are human beings who deserve empathy, respect, and inquiry. Olshefski devotes himself to rendering the quotidian textures of this family. Christine’a is the practical one, while her husband, Christopher, known as Quest, is the dreamer working in his shoestring music studio, attempting to break into the rap market. Christine’a and Christopher’s teenage daughter, Pearl, wants to be a musician as well, and there’s a particularly evocative and beautiful moment in the film where we see her tapping her fingers rhythmically.
We see how Christopher’s music serves as an escape from the reliable distractions, tedium, and tragedies of life. However, this tedium and tragedy keep interfering with the family struggling for a breakthrough. Christine’a’s 21-year-old son (from a different relationship), William, is diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor soon after his son is born, and Pearl hit in the head by a stray bullet on the street, losing one of her eyes. Christopher’s most gifted rapper, Price, is on the verge of succumbing to alcoholism. Life is far from easy.
The Raineys experience one terrible event after another and do so with grace and strength and we sense their socially ingrained pragmatism. Olshefski understands that Christine’a and Christopher rarely succumb to their emotions because they don’t have that luxury and we especially see this in an argument about P.J.’s (Pearl’s nickname) homosexuality.
Olshefski spent nine years befriending and filming the Raineys, and his finished documentary is a meditative study of the everyday realities of poverty, gun crime, and racism, whilst offering a moving portrayal of people united by love and affection.. Both Christine’a and Christopher are community stalwarts: she works at a local domestic violence shelter, while he runs a music recording studio for the local disenfranchised youth, alongside his regular job of delivering newspapers. Together they share bond that seals everything else together, both at home and in the wider community. They suffer hardship and strife, but their love endures throughout.
The camera always captures the family with unsentimental tenderness and genuine empathy. In the tender moments that we see, we feel a deep emotional response to the film. Love is a shield against the hard world beyond the family’s front door. We see the harmony in family and community, and a kind if wealth that is based on love. This family finds hope in each other’s support. Now with a right wing, White Supremacist-supporting President in the White House who succeeded America’s first black President, this film has even more impact. For the Raineys, and families like them, life will probably get much harder indeed