For his POV documentary Quest, Jonathan Olshefski spent nearly a decade chronicling the daily triumphs and tragedies of the Raineys—father Christopher "Quest" Rainey, mother, Christine’a "Ma Quest" Rainey and daughter Patricia "PJ" Rainey—a working class African-American family in North Philadelphia.
"The number one goal of this film was to gather material that would allow the viewer to connect to the Rainey family," Olshefski says. "The number two goal was to tell the story artfully and capture images that would convey the beauty of the family and the neighborhood.
"I spent a lot of time over the years just hanging out, watching movies, playing cards," he continues. "The result of this long-term commitment was that I was able to fade into the background and record natural scenes where the camera was not intrusive.
"It is a reflection of a relationship. It mirrors the friendship that I have developed with the Rainey family and their community over the last ten years. That friendship is the most precious thing to me—the film and all that comes from it are a bonus.
"Films surely reflect the voices of their directors, but my goal as a director is not to push my own personal feelings. Rather, it is to convey respect and honor for my subjects and accurately reflect and amplify their perspectives and feelings. My only agenda is to provide viewers the opportunity to connect to these really incredible individuals and share the love that I have for them. That is what I want the viewer to take away. These are people whose voices should be heard.
"As a white guy roaming around the neighborhood with a camera some folks were a little skeptical at first (and rightly so!), but Quest vouched for me and since people trusted him they came to trust me as well. After a little bit of time the community simply began to think of me as 'Quest's cameraman.'
"Over the years I had the opportunity to make so many friends in the community many of the folks only appear briefly in the background of a shot and others that I have known for years didn't make it into the film at all, but at the end of the day the process was a catalyst to connect to a ton of amazing people. At the end of the day, I make films to make friends. Being a 'fly of the wall' probably isn't the best description of the production process.
"I was present throughout, but rather than fade into the background I could fade into the foreground because I was just a constant presence. The Raineys have described it in Q&A a number of times: 'Jon became like furniture, but also like family.' I didn't work with a big production team, or even a sound person. It was just me tagging along with my camera. The Raineys were always supportive of the project and me. The kindness they show to others as seen in the film was always extended to me as well.
"Scene after scene, we see the Raineys show generosity to all those around them. They face obstacles together with unmatched grace, poise and love," says Justine Nagan, executive producer/executive director of POV/American Documentary. "Quest is the portrait of a family immensely invested in their community. It follows them as they face odds that are unimaginable for some, and all too familiar for others."