“Quest”: Save the world, start with the family
PJ and Christopher Rainey in a scene from "Quest."

Jonathan Olshefski’s new documentary Quest is raw, refreshing and ultimately riveting. In a sea of save-the-world super heroes, Quest offers us the real thing—a working-class family that stares down 21st-century adversity and challenge to cobble together community. Quest manages to hover just north of soap opera on the solid ground of real catharsis.

Christopher Rainey, aka Quest, delivers newspapers to support his passions—his extended family and his rap recording studio. His second wife Christine’a Rainey, Ma Quest, is the organizing matriarch of the studio and their lives. The couple had earlier children from previous relationships. But they “came to equal conclusions” that they were “tired of the old stuff” of rootless running around. Their twenty years together solidified around the music business and PJ, the daughter they had together.

The Quests’ life centers around PJ. She works with Chris on delivery and with him in the recording studios. He walks her to school every day and picks her up even though she is an emerging teenager. When tragedy and change threaten PJ, the family is tested.

Daily life itself in hardscrabble North Philadelphia is more than enough dramatic challenge. Crime, poverty and blight abound. Mixed encounters with the police, failed institutions and dysfunctional infrastructure ratchet up the degree of difficulty that populates everyday urban life. But Olshefski’s camera, over the years that he follows the family, captures a healthy measure of the community’s stirring music, street celebrations, barbecue and basketball.

Secondary characters are a rich, uneven tapestry. Quest’s musical partner Pride brings consternation and comic relief, caught between battling and celebrating addiction. William, Ma’s 21-year-old son, battles cancer as he raises the Quests’ first grandchild. He’s a good father, Ma Quest tells us, as she shares how much she enjoys being a grandmother.

The Quests are a strong family in a culturally rich, though economically poor neighborhood. Their discussions and choices, particularly against the backdrop of the Obama elections, show how conscious they are of the world around them and what they need to do to affect it. Clearly we need more support for these very real super heroes—and more stories of their struggles. As the Quests share their lives, we can see that saving the world starts with community and family.

The trailer can be viewed here.

Photo: A still from Quest.


Michael Berkowitz
Michael Berkowitz

Michael Berkowitz, a veteran of the civil rights and anti-war movements, has been Land Use Planning Consultant to the government of China for many years. He taught Chinese and American History at the college level, worked with Eastern Kentucky Welfare Rights Org. with miners, and was an officer of SEIU.