They’re everyday saints. The Raineys are a loving family and community activists. They live in northern Philadelphia, an inner-city neighborhood that’s an archetype for lots of struggling, poverty-level American communities. Yet somehow, this endearing clan remains positive through the most challenging moments. Their resilience and family bond are the heart of this very moving documentary.
Director Jonathan Olshefski followed the Rainey’s for eight years, starting back in the early days of Barack Obama’s presidency. He captures devastating moments, breakthroughs and acts of love that are amazing to watch. The stark realism on view makes you feel like you were invited into their home and given a seat at their dining room table.
You learn that dad, Christopher "Quest" Rainey, makes money several ways: he delivers papers and is a record promoter/producer. In his spare time, on Friday nights, he invites local novice rappers over who freestyle and jam in his basement studio where music is their salvation. Quest gets to nurture young men in the neighborhood who sometimes lack direction and self-discipline. He is a surrogate father to many. His wife Christine'a "Ma Quest" is employed at a women’s shelter, where she is a mother figure. Though both adults have jobs, they put a face on this country’s working poor.
The Rainey’s kids are also a concern. Their daughter P.J. is a free spirit teen, loved deeply by her parents and the center of their focus. But even that intense devotion is not enough to protect her from stray bullets. Christine’a’s son William, a young adult, is undergoing cancer treatment. His fight for life is another challenge that keeps the family on edge. The birth of William’s son over the filming brings three generations into one household. It’s a circle of life that is both universal and very normal in an urban environment.
This passion project started when Olshefski taught an art class in North Philadelphia and met Chris Rainey. His admiration for the dad’s love of music and his community and strong work ethic coaxed the artist into chronicling the family’s life in photos. That mission evolved into filming them and a project that took 10 years to complete. Editor Lindsay Utz has cut what must have been hours upon hours of raw footage into 122 minutes of captivating film. What’s on view is further enhanced by T. Griffin’s musical score.
This is cinema verité at its highest level. Never do you question the raw emotions that are on view: the difficult conversations about child-rearing; the trips to the hospital for the wounded; the arguments with young men who are strung out on drugs; the positive shows of support. Equally interesting are the ways Chris and Christine’a cope with their surroundings. He unselfishly helps the young African American men in his neighborhood, but yet it is quite possible that a neighbor’s stray bullets hit his child. At times, Chris has harsh words for the local police, who stop him and ask for his ID. But during community events, he is appreciative of their efforts. These kinds of everyday dualities and contradictions are rarely captured on film.
Some of the most interesting scenes feature street demonstrations where speakers rail against the state of their neighborhood and the times we live in: “We’re the only ones dealing with the blood on the concrete!” “How did JAY-Z and Meek Mill become leaders? Our first role models should be us!”
When the final credits roll, it’s heartening to know that people like the Raineys, the backbone of this country, are thriving in the face of great odds. Their love for each other, family and community is a blessing that holds you in an emotional grip.
Quest is a joy to watch and its message should be shared.
Visit NNPA News Wire Film Critic Dwight Brown at DwightBrownInk.com.