Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 09, 2017 5:47 pm 
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The saga of a wonderful African American family in North Philly

A multiple-year documentary following a black family, the Raineys, in North Philadelphia who face poverty, hard work, and the violence of the neighborhood with inspiring spirit and courage. The father is the youthful and hip-seeming Christopher Rainey ("Quest"), who works at several jobs delivering papers and circulars to support his family as best he can and keep open his recording studio showcasing local rap artists. The matriarch, also youthful, is Christopher's wife Christine'a, who works at a day job at a homeless shelter and supports the family. She and Christopher look to have a great relationship, and it's gone on for twenty years or more. The filmmaker has described the Rainey family in an interview in Indiewire as "community builders."

The events focus is on their two children. The older son, William, is found to have a cancerous tumor just after a baby boy is born to him. He survives to be a good dad to his beautiful little boy, Isaiah. William's 13-year-old sister is PJ, the Raineys' daughter, a lively, cheerful, independent girl who spends a lot of her time on the basketball court, who is struck by a stray bullet from a far-off gunfight and loses an eye. Thanks to P.J.'s pluck and the warmth of her parents, she deals with this trauma, and even can still shoot hoops. In time it comes out that P.J. is gay. Her parents have trouble dealing with this and "blame" each other or themselves for this happening, as if it was a choice.

Olshefski began as a still photographer, not a filmmaker, planning to do a photo series about Quest, the recording studio, and the local rap artists who come there. Then he stayed and became "like a piece of furniture," filming the life of the Rainey family. The family members, and at times the neighborhood, gives themselves to Olshefski's camera and mike, serving as their own articulate narrators.

Much of the action Olsevski shot happens during the time of Barack Obama's presidency and a little more. And the Rainey parents help get people to vote, and posters and portraits in local places remind white viewers what a very special thing it was to have a black president with wife and daughters to match, in the White House, for the past eight years. But Olshefski downplays the timeline and politics: here the issues are local and the support is communal, while the problems are such as urban poor and black America faces all over the country. Price, Christoper and Quest's most promising rapper, develops an alcohol problem that keeps him from achieving his potential. Christopher also contributes to a local radio program, and P.J. plays in a band for a while. It's in the nature of the Raineys that they are creative, interactive, and contributors to the community in multiple ways. Their lives and this documentary film are inspiring. Olshevski hopes that his film will inspire others to follow such communities and give back.

Quest, 105 mins., debuted at Sundance 21 Jan. 2017; will play at Cleveland; was screened for this review as part of New Directors/New Films.

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