Jonathan Olshefski’s new documentary, “Quest” is raw, refreshing and ultimately riveting. In a sea of save-the-world super heroes, “Quest” offers us the real thing – a working class family that stares down 21st Century adversity and challenge to cobble together community. “Quest” manages to hover just north of soap opera on the solid ground of real catharsis.
Christopher Rainey, aka Quest, delivers newspapers to support his passions – his extended family and his rap recording studio. His second wife Christine’A Rainey, Ma Quest, is the organizing matriarch of the studio and their lives. The couple had earlier children from previous relationships. But they “came to equal conclusions” that they were “tired of the old stuff” of rootless running around. Their twenty years together solidified around the music business and PJ, the daughter they had together.
Rainey’s life centers around PJ. She works with Chris on delivery and with him in the recording studios. He walks her to school every day and picks her up even though she is an emerging teenager. When tragedy and change threaten PJ, the family is tested.
Daily life itself in hard scrabble North Philadelphia is more than enough dramatic challenge. Crime, poverty and blight abound. Mixed encounters with the police, failed institutions and dysfunctional infrastructure ratchet up the degree of difficulty that populates everyday urban life. But Olshefski’s camera, over the years that he follows the family, captures good measure of the community’s stirring music, street celebrations, barbeque and basketball.
Secondary characters are a rich, uneven tapestry. The Rainey’s musical partner Price brings consternation and comic relief, caught between battling and celebrating addiction. William, Christine’A’s 21 year old son, battles cancer as he raises Ma’s first grandchild. He’s a good father, Ma tells us, as she shares how much she enjoys being a grandmother.
The Raineys are a strong family in a rich, though poor neighborhood. Their discussions and choices, particularly against the backdrop of the Obama elections show how conscious they are of the world around them and what they need to do to affect it. Clearly we need more support for these very real super heroes . . . and more stories of their struggles. As the Raineys share their lives, we can see that saving the world starts with community and family.