Filmed over a decade in North Philadelphia, Quest hones 300 hours of footage into a compact, powerful documentary that left audiences cheering and in tears following its 2017 Sundance Film Festival premiere. Beginning before Barack Obama’s 2008 inauguration and closing in the midst of an increasingly divisive 2016 election, the film melds the personal and political through daily observations of a tight-knit African American family confronted by a barrage of inner-city setbacks. Quest is a remarkable feat of editing and vérité observation, but its lasting power comes from the deep well of trust established between subjects and filmmaker. With a single camera, director Jonathan Olshefski sets his sights on Christopher “Quest” Rainey; his wife, Christine’a (also known as “Ma Quest”); and their teen daughter, PJ, who, halfway through the film, comes out to her father in a refreshingly off-the-cuff manner. This blink-and-you-miss-it moment alone reveals a new generation beautifully indifferent to outdated gender and sexual norms.
It’s PJ’s resilience, not just to stigmas about sexuality but also in response to a terrible accident that leaves her blind in one eye, that cements Quest as the ultimate portrait of survival in a country where black bodies risk physical harm on a daily basis. In an attempt to offset this grim reality, Rainey creates a safe haven of music in a makeshift studio in his home, where neighbors find time late at night to rap and rekindle a community-centered joy that’s so often diminished by institutionalized inequality and racism.
— HARRY VAUGHN