'Quest': Film Review | Sundance 2017

A moving portrait of a North Philadelphia family.

Jonathan Olshefski's doc follows a struggling African-American family over the course of 10 years.

"Daddy, I'm sorry, I got shot!” That's the plea of a young girl in her North Philadelphia neighborhood who has been hit by a stray bullet, as heard in the piercing new documentary Quest, which premiered at Sundance. Undeniably these are “mean streets,” yet this film shows the strength and tenderness of a black family whose circumstances are daunting. Devoid of any political posturing or editorial agenda, Quest is a jarring and gentle testament to the powers of family and individual kindness.

Shot in a cinema-verite style over a 10-year period, filmmaker Jonathan Olshefski's movie illuminates the tight bonds of this family. In addition to his or her surrounding neighborhood strife, each has personal burdens: Father/husband Christopher “Quest” Rainey has battled addiction; his wife, Christine'a “Ma Quest,” was burned and scarred when a gas unit in their tiny home exploded; the eldest son suffers from a brain tumor; and their daughter has been shot through the eye.

A man of calm resolve, Quest not only looks out for his own family, but opens up his tiny recording studio on Friday afternoons to neighborhood youth. Drawing them in from the streets and giving voice to their creative juices, his good-neighbor generosity inspires them. They are kids who have been afforded no opportunities, only obstacles. The look in Quest's eyes when their creative swagger erupts bespeaks the nourishment he, too, gets from such a selfless deed.

Filmmaker Olshefski invigorates the story with his cinematography: His shots are to-the-point and succinct, in-tight on the family members but never intrusive. It's fittingly organic, as if the camera is never there. Similarly, his technical team never indulges in “arty” flourishes or calls attention to the verite style. Editor Lindsay Utz's crisp cuts and tonal blends magnify our inside peek at this remarkable family, while composer T. Griffin's supple score is amplified by Quest's own music.

Production companies: CineReach, MacArthur Foundation, ifpITVS
Director: Jonathan Olshefski
Producer: Sabrina Schmidt Gordon
Executive producer: Sally Jo Fifer
Cinematographer: Jonathon Olshefski
Editor: Lindsay Utz
Music: Christopher Rainey
Composer: T. Griffin
Venue: Sundance Film Festival (U.S. Documentary Competition)

105 minutes