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December 5, 2017

Filmed over a decade in North Philadelphia, Quest is the intimate portrait of Christopher “Quest” Rainey, Christine’a (aka “Ma Quest”) and their family and community. The film tenderly depicts this American family as everyday life brings a mix of joy and unexpected crisis, and is a profound testament to love, healing and hope.


Quest opens this weekend at NYC’s Quad Cinema, and continues at the Ritz at the Bourse theater in Philadelphia. It will open at Laemmle Monica in LA on December 15 and Pittsburgh’s Regent Square Theater on January 5th.

We asked director Jonathan Olshefski if he had to ignore any conventional wisdom to capture the uniquely personal footage that makes Quest so special to audiences. This was Jonathan’s response, in his own words:

I had made skate videos and experimental videos before, but the first frame of documentary video that I ever shot was for Quest. I didn’t know how to make an observational documentary and I didn’t know what my style was going to be.

When I started filming in 2007, I heard from a number of sources that I should not gather too much footage or I would make life miserable in the editing room. I followed this advice at first, and second-guessed every shot before I hit record. But eventually, moments or conversations that I didn’t film began to haunt me. They became legendary in my mind, as I imagined how great they were in contrast to the material I had.

Once I was following Quest on his paper route after a long day, and the crew was riding home in the truck. A lively dialogue developed about life as kids growing up in North Philly, and all the fun they had jumping roofs, playing hide and seek in the project buildings, and how their shoes would start to melt when they ran along the top of hot boilers in the basement. Each person had a funny story to top the previous one. I was captivated but also preoccupied with second-guessing whether the conversation would be part of the finished movie. As the stories got better and better, I didn’t feel start filming, since I had missed the previous moment and so on. Ultimately, I didn’t film any of it and was left to replay it in my mind over and over, imagining what a great scene it would have been.

After anguishing about the great scenes I failed to capture, I developed an approach where if something interested me for any reason I captured it. I would try to not edit while filming but took a more agnostic approach to gathering raw material. I would figure out what to keep and lose later, when I knew what was truly important to the story.

I made sure I had enough dv tapes/memory cards (yes, tapes in the early years!) to follow my instincts. Ultimately, I filmed close to 400 hours over the course of ten years (which actually isn’t a crazy ratio), but I still wonder about some of those early scenes that I neglected to capture while I prioritized trying not to overshoot over following my gut.

When we asked Jonathan for a favorite image from the making of Quest, he shared two that together reflect one of the most rewarding outcomes of capturing Rainey moments big and small.

These are two frames that were captured five years apart. In each, PJ Rainey is on the left and her dad, Christopher “Quest” Rainey, is on the right. The first is from election day 2008. PJ is nine and watching puppies play in the yard. The second is from 2013, a year when PJ’s life was altered forever. Despite all the changes over the years, PJ’s connection to her dad remained deep and constant. I love that the visual continuity between these two frames reflects the continuity of that bond. —Jonathan Olshefski

Quest was directed by Jonathan Olshefski, produced by Sabrina Schmidt Gordon and edited by Lindsay Utz. Supporters of Quest include the MacArthur Foundation, ITVS and IFP (in addition to Cinereach).