review by paul dunne
Quest is a documentary that follows the Rainey family as they live through crises and comforts over a ten-year period. The footage centers around the family’s music studio that serves as shelter and sanctuary for father, Chris, and the local community. Every Friday Chris, opens his doors to local rappers to freestyle in a bid to give the youth an alternative to the crime and violence that thrives in North Philadelphia. The life of one rapper in particular, Price, is followed closely. His story of great artistic potential corrupted by alcoholism avoids cliché due to the construction of Quest.
On a formal level, Quest is filmed with astonishing intimacy. The cameras are given extremely close access to the Rainey family’s everyday life, even in moments of immense tension and pain. We experience events and receive reactions directly from the source as all members of the family deliver diary style monologues directly into the camera. We live and grow with each family member, through personal and public struggles. Quest spans across ten years, yet it doesn’t feel long winded or laboured. The passage of time is expertly handled by minute details such as a subtle switch between Obama and Trump presidential campaigns that appear as background noise, posters on walls and TV footage. The sound design is noteworthy too, as the music from Chris’ studio sessions carries across scenes, turning subject matter into atmosphere, blending soundtrack and score together.
The heart of Quest lies in the Rainey family and the strength of community. Their unexpected troubles and triumphs are never dramatized or romanticized, rather the reality and rawness of the emotional moments are kept intact. We see the two children, William and PJ, survive despite the terrible setbacks they encounter. Meanwhile, Chris and Christine’a retain their positive outlooks and attitudes amidst a world that is equally as punishing as it rewarding.
There is no message or morality offered throughout Quest. Yet, the documentary feels personal and poignant, with very little mediation between raw footage and finished film. Hints of politics, sexuality, and philosophy peek through but in a natural, subtle way. There is no ‘happily ever after’ or any ending really, the credits blend into footage and audio of studio sessions as it has many times across the documentary’s runtime. The lack of a traditional ending or message is a fantastic choice as we are realising that we haven’t watched a story, we have watched lives lived that will continue past a scroll of names.