Questioning Faith (NR)

Documentary November 9, 2001
By Alan Scherstuhl
Jonathan Olshefski took almost 10 years to shoot his moving life-in-North Philly documentary Quest, an intimate study of one African-American family over the course of the Obama years. During this time, the Raineys suffer more than their share of tragedies, but the film runs just over 100 minutes, its focus on everyday moments rather than the momentous ones. Quest becomes, then, less about the disruptions to the Raineys' existence than about the continuities, how love and community-mindedness make it all better no matter how rough things get.

The title comes from the nickname of Christopher "Quest" Rainey, a husband and father and sound engineer who records rappers from around the neighborhood each Friday in his home studio -- giving young people a place to go, a chance to create. Christine'a Rainey, his wife, works at a women's shelter and is called "Ma" by seemingly everyone she meets. Olshefski catches the Raineys in some verite moments, chatting and living, making beats and braiding hair, sometimes arguing about the kinds of things all families argue about.

The most upsetting sequences come early, when the Raineys' daughter P.J., barely a teenager, gets shot by a stray bullet while crossing the street. She loses an eye, and we see her coping with the loss -- she can still sink some jump shots -- visiting doctors, having her bandages pulled off and facing relatives and neighbors for the first time with her new glass eye. Olshefski charts her growth -- she gets taller, it seems, every time we see her, a feeling parents will recognize -- with warm sympathy, his camera never seeming invasive. You see how her parents' love and work nourish this vital, independent spirit.

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