Monday, March 20, 2017

“Quest”– Movie Review



This week, I attended another screening of the New Directors/New Films Series by The Film Society Of Lincoln Center and The Museum Of Modern Art:  the new documentary “Quest” by director Jonathan Olshefski


From 2008 until 2016, an African American family is forced to overcome extraordinary adversity. 


In 2008, Christopher “Quest” Rainey of North Philadelphia experienced two major life-changing events:  one was that he finally married Christine’a, his girlfriend of 15 years; the otehr being Barack Obama was elected as America’s first African-American president.  While both Christopher and Christine’a brought children from a previous marriage into their union, they also produced a daughter of their own, PJ, who is 12 years old at this time.  Christine’a is the main breadwinner for the family, working at a homeless shelter, while Christopher does what he can to contribute to their children – but afterwards, he operates a recording studio in the basement of their home.

While they struggle to make ends meet, Christine’a also has another concern:  William, her 21 year old son, has been diagnosed with a brain tumor.  Forced to live at home due to his illness, he has to endure countless debilitating chemotherapy sessions, which of course make him sick.  He yearns to someday hold down a job in order to support his own young son, for whom Christine’a must care during his recovery.  In the meantime, Christopher is trying to find the next big rapper who will rocket him to success and help him be a better provider for his family.

At this point, they are caught in the midst of an unexpected tragedy:  PJ, who by now is in her mid-teens, is caught in the crossfire of warring neighborhood gangs and is shot in the face just a few blocks from her home, causing her to lose her left eye.  This makes the family unite behind her and once she is home from the hospital, they plan a block party to celebrate her return, where many of the community are glad to attend to show their love.  But as PJ learns how to deal with her new life, she is also now turning into a young woman – one who has discovered she is a lesbian and eventually comes out to her family.  Will this unexpected turn result in the family rejecting her or serve as yet another reason to band together?


At its heart, what this documentary is about can be summed up in one word:  resilience.  This is a family that keeps bouncing back no matter what challenges life presents – and despite all of it, they remain solid, admirable people, worthy of the respect and support of any audience.  It is unimaginable what these folks have been forced to suffer through and the fact that they have emerged intact is nothing short of triumphant.  “Quest” is a celebration of the dignity of the American family and The Raineys are the paradigm upon whom we should all model ourselves. 

All of that said, there are some issues with the movie, likely due to the fact that this is a director who never made a documentary before.  The structure definitely appears sound:  each act is centered on a presidential election – in 2008, then again in 2012 and finally 2016 at the conclusion.  Where the problem comes is in the passage of time; clearly, we know that it occurs, but it can sometimes be difficult to keep track of exactly at what point in time you are viewing the family.  What probably would have been helpful are graphics that showed (at the very least) the month and year when each scene occurred. 

Following the screening, there was an interview with director Jonathan Olshefski and The Rainey Family.  He said he shot about 400 hours worth of footage over an eight year period, boiling it down to just under two hours – although much of it wasn’t usable because, as he admitted, there were long gaps of time when nothing worth keeping in the film occurred.  With a background in photography, he started out doing a visual essay on a man who had a recording studio in his basement, but soon realized that he had to switch to a different medium since the still pictures didn’t do it justice.  PJ was also there; she is 17 years old now and said she plans to attend college in the autumn.   

Quest (2017) on IMDb

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