Devastating events befall the Raineys, the family at the center of photographer Jonathan Olshefski’s low-key but radiant filmmaking debut. And yet the lasting impression that “Quest” makes is not one of despair or ruin. Through eight years of filming — years that stretch from Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign to Donald Trump’s — the director discovers an everyday American story of extraordinary strength.
The film takes its title from the hip-hop handle of Christopher Rainey, who with his wife, Christine’a, runs a basement recording studio in their north Philadelphia home. Respected neighborhood figures, they play a parental role to many of the rappers they mentor, all while raising a daughter and working jobs that barely keep them afloat — he delivers coupon circulars, and she works at a women’s shelter. Care for an infant grandson is added to the mix when Christine’a’s eldest son, William, undergoes treatment for a brain tumor.
Olshefski excerpts and shapes the passing years with a fluent intimacy that makes the calamitous intrusion of random gun violence, and its lasting effect on the Raineys’ daughter, PJ, all the more shocking.
The family’s dignity and resilience are inseparable from their frontline activism in their neglected, predominantly black corner of the city. They listen in horror as candidate Trump exhorts “the African Americans” to give him a chance, but they understand too that Obama’s high-minded rhetoric hasn’t improved their day-to-day lives. “Quest” captures the way those lives go on, not just as they must, but with stunning grace.
Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica