Posted March 15, 2016

Alumnus’ film follows North Philadelphia family

The documentary earned Jonathan Olshefski, SMC ’04, TFM ’11, a prestigious MacArthur Foundation grant.

Quest Rainey teaching a young girl to play drums.
Jonathan Olshefski
A still from Jonathan Olshefski's documentary, "Quest: The Fury and The Sound," shows North Philadelphia resident Christopher “Quest” Rainey teaching drums.

Storytellers often hope their stories will have an impact on the audience; that the viewer will be enlightened or enraged, moved or motivated by the work.

Filmmaker Jonathan Olshefski, SMC ’04, TFM ’11, wants that for his documentary, Quest: The Fury and The Sound. But even before the film intimately following North Philadelphian Christopher “Quest” Rainey and his family is released, Olshefski admits, it’s already had an impact on one person: himself.

A decade of work will do that.

For the past nine years, Olshefski has documented Quest—who operates the home-based neighborhood rap studio Everquest—as he mentors and unites community members. Olshefski has also captured Quest’s family life by filming both happiness and hardship.

With the help of a $100,000 MacArthur Foundation grant announced in January, Olshefski is gearing up to bring those experiences to viewers in a feature-length film; the project was one of 19 awarded grants from more than 500 applications. He said the money will help push the film into post-production and to a possible 2017 release.

The MacArthur award follows other assistance—including being accepted into the Independent Filmmaker Project mentoring program—that has signaled support for the documentary after Olshefski spent many years engrossed in the project with no budget or team. (He now has a producer and an editor.)

“A chance encounter”
Filming began after Olshefski met the Raineys through what he described as a “chance encounter.” While working construction and practicing photojournalism on the side, Olshefski was volunteering with a North Philadelphia photography program. One participant would eventually introduce Olshefski to his brother, Quest.

“Before it’s a movie, it’s a relationship.”
-- Jonathan Olshefski, SMC ’04, TFM ’11
Olshefski was soon taking photos of Quest’s rap studio and becoming mesmerized by the do-it-yourself ethos of the operation. Equally compelling as Quest’s passion for music was his commitment to providing for his family by delivering newspapers and circulars.

“For Quest, it a means a lot to do what he loves—but it’s also about creating community and giving these guys an outlet to connect in a safe and positive way,” he explained.

As an undergraduate at Temple, Olshefski studied English literature and film and media arts. He decided to bring the story to his graduate school work when he began the MFA program in 2007.

“Returning to Temple was a great opportunity to focus on my creative goals and develop my craft in a context that was both supportive and inspirational,” Olshefski said. “My first semester there, we had to do a cinematography project on 16 millimeter film. My project was following Quest.”

That included embedding himself into the Rainey family, including spending nights at their home and following Quest on his morning route. “Before it’s a movie,” Olshefski said, “it’s a relationship.”

Through celebration and crisis
After finishing the MFA program in 2011, Olshefski continued to follow the family. He’s gathered more than 300 hours of footage, with a heavy focus on Quest, his wife, Christine’a “Ma Quest” Rainey, and daughter Patricia “PJ” Rainey. He was with the family during some high points, such as the election of the country’s first black president and again during President Obama’s re-election. He also captured devastating moments, including the aftermath of PJ’s being struck by a stray bullet on a walk home.

Olshefski said he’s learned a lot from the family. “They’re incredibly resilient and I have so much respect for them,” he said. “Some of the obstacles they face are unjust."

He hopes Quest: The Fury and The Sound will spur a broader conversation about issues facing North Philadelphia and other urban communities by showcasing the story of one family. It’s a story that’s still unfolding.

“I’m going to keep filming,” he said, “until my team tells me to stop.”

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