QUEST: One Family’s Instinctive Travels
Quest is both a mirror and a window, showing both symptoms of our culture and the ways in which individuals subvert and redefine them.
Documentaries invariably brush up against the question, “how do I turn life into a movie?” Life, as I’m sure you’re aware, is a series of meandering, sometimes random events loosely strung together by a number of intersecting threads, maybe one for your family, one for your job, one for free time; not exactly the stuff of a compelling film. To compound the problem, oftentimes when a filmmaker embarks on a project, they have only the roughest outline of what their film will be about, partnering with happenstance as a co-writer.
That’s why I was so enamored of Jonathan Olshefski‘s Quest, which manages to create a satisfying film while totally eschewing a forced narrative structure. That’s not to say the film is devoid of drama, far from it, but its dramatic elements are presented much as they happen in life: suddenly and unto themselves.
Go Ahead In the Rain
Quest takes its name from the family at its center, consisting of Christopher Rainey, his wife Christine’a, her son William and their daughter PJ, but everyone calls them the Quests due to the name of their long running music studio near their home in North Philadelphia. The recording space serves as a nexus for both the Raineys and the film, as we return there periodically and are allowed access cyphers from local rappers so good they made me want to know who they were.
The Raineys are the embodiment of familial love. The film opens with Chris and Christine’a’s wedding, which their children attend, signifying both the start and continuation of something. From the outset the film presents itself like a family friend, checking in on the family through moments big and small over the production’s ten years. The following scene shows Chris taking PJ to school on the back of his back, effectively demonstrating my parenting goals should I ever go that route.
Very quickly in the course of simply staying a apart of this family’s lives Olshefski documents tragedies befalling the younger Raineys that greatly outsize their age. Furthermore, the Raineys are so altruistic and community oriented, it’s almost as if what befalls them in the film is some modern day Book of Job.
But everything this family endures in the film, they overcome, as evidenced by perhaps the most emotional and triumphant scene of jump-shot practicing in cinema history. Through the studio and also Christine’s role at a local shelter for women, the film very plainly demonstrates that those who have to live through hardship are also those most willing to help others through their own.
Push It Along
Just as Olshefski refuses to force a narrative structure on its presentation of life, so too does he avoid making Quest an “issue” film. But these hot button topics are not entities unto themselves, but symptoms of the lives we all lead, and as such arise naturally throughout the course of the film.
We’re repeatedly there with the Raineys watching live news broadcasts, inviting the viewer to recall their own experience of various shared events over the past decade, and perhaps even view them through new eyes along with the film’s subjects. Poverty, racial profiling, community violence, healthcare all are represented in the without the film being “about” any one of them.
Rather, by offering a deeply relateable prism through which to experience such societal concerns, that of the nuclear American family, Quest is both a mirror and a window, showing both symptoms of our culture and the ways in which individuals subvert and redefine them.
Quest expands its theatrical run today, on December 8th. To see showtimes near you, go here.
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