Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Quest - For more than a decade, this portrait of a North Philadelphia family and the creative sanctuary offered by their home music studio was filmed with vérité intimacy. The family's 10-year journey is an illumination of race and class in America, and it's a testament to love, healing and hope.
"Olshefski's love of the family shines bright and proves infectious." | Photo: Jonathan Olshefski

There is no doubt that big name and big issue documentaries are important - a fact underlined by the presence of three films highlighting the conflict in Syria at Sundance this year - but Jonathan Olshefski's intimate portrait of a single family shows how a study of any life can be both fascinating and thought-provoking.

Christopher "Quest" Rainey is the patriarch of an African-American family living in North Philadelphia. He runs a small home music studio, the down-at-heel nature of which is emphasised from the off as we see him dealing with leaks in the roof. He tries to help locals get a start in rap, alongside his wife Christine'a, also known as Ma Quest. The studio is by no means their only job, Quest is seen delivering papers each morning - his ability to toss one onto a door mat perfectly from a distance a sight to rival any sort of NBA dunk shot - while Ma Quest also works in between looking after their young daughter PJ. "Like the left hand and the right hand, we definitely work well together," says Quest.

Olshefski, who met the family by chance, documented their lives for nigh on 10 years. Their "friendship is the most precious thing to me" he says in his director's statement, and his love of the family shines bright and proves infectious. The decade he captures is not an easy one for the family, although many of the problems they face - money issues, pregnancy, family illness, friends with addictions - will be familiar to audiences. One incident, concerning PJ seems at first to be exceptional, but we come to learn that this 'random' type of event is all-too common in certain parts of the States. Gradually, the picture that is built, however, is not one of a family in which things are lacking - although no doubt more money, time and good health would all be welcome. Rather, Olshefski gives a sense of the love that holds their unit together and which is bolstered by a community who know how to come together as quickly in times of trouble as to celebrate moments of joy.

His film highlights the extraordinary little things that mark each of us out as individuals but also gives a sense of the bigger picture, with Barack Obama's presidency acting as a constant backdrop and touchstone for the family. We see how the Raineys' expectations and experience of his time in office wax and wane through two terms, not as a grand gesture but showing the small ways that politics and policies impinge on lives. While every film is inevitably shaped by its director, which could potentially be problematic given that Olshefski is white, Quest feels led by the family at its heart and leaves you thinking how lovely it would be to be able to share the next 10 years in their company too.

Reviewed on: 07 Feb 2017
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Intimate portrait of a North Philadelphia family.
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Director: Jonathan Olshefski

Year: 2016

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: US

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