In ‘Quest,’ music drives the story

The Rainey family works through obstacles and still gives back to the community.
Courtesy of True/False Film Fest

Quest left me in awe as it captured the complex life of a family living in North Philadelphia. We all know that family life is anything but easy, and this documentary is a testament to that. The director, Jonathan Olshefski, followed the lives of Christopher “Quest” Rainey, his wife Christine’a Rainey and their children William and PJ for a decade, from the 2008 election of President Barack Obama to the 2016 presidential campaign.

Using the presidential elections as bookmarks throughout time, we watch the Raineys as they go about their lives: Christopher works a paper route in the mornings, and Christine works at a homeless shelter. They always have earbuds in or around their ears throughout the film, as music is very important to this family. They even have a recording studio in their home, complete with a booth, lights and equipment, just like any typical studio.

Quest hosts “Freestyle Fridays” in his studio for the neighbors to come in and rap. When we are introduced to William, he’s getting his head shaved, because doctors found a cancerous tumor pressing on his pituitary gland, for which he’ll receive chemotherapy treatments.

As we witness the Rainey family working through William’s cancer struggles, PJ growing into a teenager and the general daily grind, I see how hard it can be. But the Raineys make it work, no matter what.

With life as manageable as it can be between chemotherapy sessions, studio recordings, school and work, the Rainey family is suddenly thrown for a loop. PJ is out playing basketball with some other kids from the neighborhood when she is shot in the eye. Gun violence is prevalent in their community, and hearing gunshots is not uncommon. Someone who was with PJ has to run down the streets, yelling for the Raineys, telling them that their daughter had been shot. PJ is rushed to the hospital, and her eye has to be removed.

After this event, Olshefski did take some time to express the community’s views on the gun violence that surrounds them and many others. They have a rally that calls for peace and asks where their congressmen are in times like these. This portrayed an important message, because the Rainey family could have just shut themselves in their house with PJ, but they didn’t: They took to the streets to spread peace.

Through all of the hardships the Raineys face over the decade, there is a lighter side to this documentary. Quest shows us the beauty of family: the joking, the unceasing love for one another, the making of music together.

Quest pulls at every emotion on this documentary roller coaster, but it’s worth watching to understand how life in North Philly is different from life in Columbia, but also similar in the ways that family dynamics never really change.

The cinematography of the film was skillful. It had some rough shakiness at times, but that’s what made this film come alive and not look like a well-staged act. Pieces of the film were tied together with footage of a man in the studio booth rapping. Music drove the story, and with music being something the Raineys love, it made sense.

The Rainey family attended the True/False Film Fest because they are the recipient of the True Life Fund. The True Life Fund is the fest’s way of giving back to the subjects of a documentary through matched donations. The subjects open up their lives to allow a director to tell their story for the entertainment of others, so this is just a small form of repayment for what they have given to us.

When the family came on stage after the film, the crowd erupted into cheers with a standing ovation. They said they wanted to use the donation to update the equipment in their recording studio. The main purpose of the studio is to help the neighborhood and give them a chance to reveal emotion through music.

MOVE gives Quest 4.5 out of 5 stars

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