In North Philadelphia, the Raineys are a regular African-American family who stay strong and loving despite ongoing adversity. Jonathan Olshefski’s powerful documentary follows Christopher and Christine’a, their teenage daughter Patricia (PJ), and Christine’a’s older son William over a ten-year period. Christine’a is the family rock who says, “As a mom, all you can do is roll with the punches and deal with it.” Dealing with it means supporting her son’s recovery from brain cancer, and helping to raise her grandchild. It also means the heartbreak of living in a neighborhood where people aren’t surprised when a child is shot, even if they are still outraged.
The Raineys describe their neighborhood as ‘tough,’ and in this environment, even this stable, happy, and industrious family have to work unbelievably hard just to survive. The grittiness of the area comes across, but so does its vibrancy and life. Christopher runs a recording studio where he offers opportunities to local youth. Over the years, he has witnessed talent ruined by violence and drugs, but he doesn’t believe in giving up. Olshefski’s intimacy with the family is profound, and the film gains strength through an accumulation of detail of daily life: Christine’a combing and braiding the hair of her husband and daughter, Christopher delivering newspapers and fixing the roof, the family walking and talking with neighbours on their street. Along the way, Christopher and Christine’a encounter unexpected evolutions in their children’s lives. The spectacular power of Quest comes from its complete lack of sentimentality. Its unflinching honesty reflects how the Raineys themselves are unapologetically candid, and relentlessly courageous. This is a family with a deep bond of love and faith, and this timely film has a lot to teach us. -KR