cinetopia film festival review: quest

Written by Tony Fragale


At Cinetopia, I had the chance to see many very good films, but after seeing the documentary Quest, it completely reset my standard as to how powerful a movie could be. Before digging into this review I would like to note the bias I saw this movie under. Prior to seeing this film, I had just watched Whose Streets? which was a documentary surrounding the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, MI. Now, while Whose Streets? was a great film, Quest tackled a lot of the same themes in a much different  — and dare I say digestible  — light.

Courtesy of Cinetopia Film Festival program

Courtesy of Cinetopia Film Festival program

First off, this film took about 10 years to create, and the filmmaker Jonathan Olshefski had followed the same family around in northern Philadelphia documenting their progress and struggles with race, class, hope, and love.


The film begins during the initial election for Barack Obama, and the film ends on the election day of Donald Trump. This time period not only gives the viewer a related sense of timeliness, but a sense of relatability that one might not have felt. The film follows the Rainey family and a lot of the things they are forced to deal with growing up in a hard neighborhood. Chris Rainey works in radio and runs a Friday night “freestyle session” in his own basement recording studio in hopes of letting local neighborhood kids blow off some steam and keep them off the streets. Chrstine’a Rainey is an overnight cleaner at a local hospital. Their relationship is depicted as strongly committed and mostly warm. They also have two kids, PJ and William. Unfortunately, William does not get very much screen time, but the audience really gets to grow up with PJ.


With so many hours put into this project, it really does not seem to just scream action in the audience’s face. Instead, every scene brings the viewer closer and closer to the family and their struggles. There is always an overarching sense of pressure surrounding the family, but they always seem to prevail even in the toughest times. Once it is revealed that their son William has cancer, the movie really does take off. Quest keeps the audience on their toes because of some of the tragedy that surrounds this hardworking family. Even when William’s cancer seems to be going away, the audience gets hit with another emotional punch to find out their daughter PJ was shot in the eye coming home from school.


In Quest, everything snowballs into something else, and we get a front seat view of the hardships that this family is forced to face. The film is far from quiet, though. We see the family and neighbors marching through the streets for a better neighborhood. “How did Meek Mill and Jay-Z become our leaders? Where are they now? Where are Beyoncé and Rihanna now? Our first role models should be us.” Is a powerful quote that came from one of these marches.


Through the changing tides of election season, we get to watch this family grow from a very intimate point of view. This film is probably one of the most interesting documentaries I have seen in a long time. It broke a lot of common structural bounds and was just overall touching to watch. Instead of touring characters, the audience really gets to know the family. I highly recommend Quest to anybody that has the opportunity to see it.


Featured at the 2017 Cinetopia Film Festival in Ann Arbor and Detroit, MI. The festival took place June 1st - 11th and featured “the best films from the world’s best film festivals.”

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