By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., Chicago Crusader
I saw this film “Quest” at the recent Chicago International Film Festival and really enjoyed it. It’s a shame that I would say I enjoyed a movie about a family’s struggle living and existing in North Philadelphia, but the director was able to show a tight-knit family that, even though they were struggling, were a united front in that struggle.
Filmed with vérité intimacy for almost a decade, “Quest” was not only screened at the Chicago International Film Festival but has also swept top documentary awards at festivals across the country since it premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, including the Grand Jury prize at the Full Frame Festival in April.
Beginning at the dawn of the Obama presidency, the film follows the Raineys: father Christopher “Quest” Rainey, who juggles various jobs to support his family; Christine’a “Ma Quest,” who works at a women’s shelter; Christine’a’s son William, who is undergoing cancer treatment while caring for his baby son; and PJ, Quest and Christine’a’s young daughter. In a neighborhood besieged by inequality and neglect, they nurture a community of Hip Hop artists in their home music studio. It’s a safe space where all are welcome, but this creative sanctuary can’t always shield them from the strife that grips their neighborhood. Epic in scope, “Quest” is a vivid illumination of race and class in America, and a profound testament to love, healing and hope.
PJ is an ambitious and smart young lady who is struck by a bullet in a battle of gang warfare one day, while she’s making her way home from school. Of course, as in many shootings throughout America’s urban cities, the bullet isn’t meant for her. As a result, she needed surgery and required an artificial left eye. This shooting left a mark on the family, but they persevered through this tragedy.
Director Jonathan Olshefski’s film shows more of this family’s love for one another than concentrates on what this family may be missing. Sure, the older son is going through a traumatic time with his cancer diagnosis. On the other hand, the entire family accompanies him to the barbershop to get his hair cut. It’s that “all for one, and one for all” dynamic at work. Quest has worked a full time job in the past, but now he delivers newspapers in the morning and works at his recording studio well into the night. Christine’a’s work at the women’s shelter is another way that she shows compassion for others. She has had a hard time at life, but she never seemed rattled, even after the daughter loses her eye.
The film starts with the wedding of this couple and ends with things turning the corner for the entire family; just desserts for a family who, although facing all kinds of obstacles, keeps going with the flow and making the best of life for them and their neighbors. “Quest” is a great slice of urban America that shares the total experience of a family who may be cobbling together their means to make it daily, but who are not short on ideals, morals and respect and compassion for others.
While this film isn’t currently screening in the Chicago area, it is worth tracking down via Video on Demand or other sources.