North Philly Life

Documentary explores the meaning of community

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Quest
Opens March 17

Broadway
3.5 out of 5

Unlike other superb, racially charged documentaries of late (I Am Not Your Negro, 13th), Quest sets out capture the African-American experience from the ground up. First-time director Jonathan Olshefski chronicles the everyday life of a distinctive Philadelphia clan that nevertheless faces challenges all too common to black families barely above the poverty line.

A staple in his North Philly neighborhood, Christopher Rainey a.k.a. Quest operates a home-based studio frequented by local wannabe rappers. Following a few convoluted years, Rainey and his wife Christine’a have found stability and a modicum of comfort at their home in an impoverished area. Trouble, however, is literally around the corner, and being a positive influence in their community can’t protect them from street violence.

The Raineys are not do-gooders in the traditional sense, but in their daily struggle to make ends meet and raise their bright younger daughter PJ, they are a source of common sense and community empowerment. The film’s centerpiece is a tragedy I won’t spoil here. Suffice to say Quest’s investment in others and his own betterment pays off.

It’s hard to fathom that Quest is Olshefski’s first movie. The doc unfolds smoothly, despite covering nearly four years in the life of the subjects. The filmmaker weaves the passing of time, challenges and changing circumstances seamlessly.

It’s impossible not to notice that if a hardworking, centered family faces a steep road to get out of poverty, less fortunate households have little chance to make it out. Through most of the documentary Barack Obama appears intermittently, via news channels or memorabilia. Without expressing it overtly, we get an idea of how much of a game changer the 44th U.S. President was.

The film ends, though, with Trump’s patronizing call to African-Americans to vote for him: “What do you have to lose?” A lot, it turns out.