2017 saw the release of at least two television series based on films about Black lives, She’s Gotta Have It and Dear White People. A strong candidate for a third is Jonathan Olshefski’s documentary Quest, especially since the material already exists. Culled from over 300 hours of footage shot between the 2008 and 2016 elections, Quest is embedded with the Rainey family of North Philadelphia: Christopher “Quest” Rainey runs a freestyle hip-hop studio in the basement while working odd jobs; his wife Christine’a works in a homeless shelter; their daughter PJ is a normal teenager who fights to retain that normalcy after losing an eye to a stray bullet; and Christine’a’s older son William was diagnosed with a brain tumor not long after becoming a father.
That’s plenty of drama right there even without factoring the historical events happening in the background — Christine’a’s reaction to Trump’s “What the hell do you have to lose?” speech is especially potent — and all families have drama, but the Raineys are endlessly compelling less for their conflicts than for the inevitably thoughtful and philosophical ways they approach those conflicts. At a lean 90 minutes, Quest never drags, but it’s also begging to be extended into that update of An American Family which, for some reason, has never materialized.
Opens Friday at the Roxie Theater.