2017 Sundance Docs in Focus: QUEST

Jonathan Olshefski presents a longitudinal portrait of an African-American family in North Philly.

Festival Section:
US Documentary Competition

Sundance Program Description:

Filmed with vérité intimacy over the course of a decade, the documentary feature debut of director Jonathan Olshefski is a portrait of a family living in North Philadelphia. Set against the backdrop of a country engulfed in turmoil, and a neighborhood assaulted by inequality and neglect, it follows Christopher “Quest” Rainey, and his wife Christine’a, “Ma Quest,” as they raise their children and nurture the creative sanctuary offered by their home music studio. The family matures and evolves before our eyes, and what began as a tender depiction of an American family develops into a stunning illumination of race, class, and self-determination.

QUEST begs viewers to take notice. The Quest clan will have audiences clutching their hearts in a visceral display of admiration. Ultimately, QUEST reflects the profound beauty of one family whose journey is a testament to love and healing and whose resilience provides hope for a nation torn apart.

Some Background:

  • Jonathan Olshefski
    This is Olshefski’s first feature-length project after a series of photo essays, interactive shorts, and doc shorts.


  • Sabrina Schmidt Gordon
    Past Sundance docs:

    HIP HOP: BEYOND BEATS & RHYMES (2006, co-producer/editor)
    RALPH BUNCHE: AN AMERICAN ODYSSEY (2001, assistant producer)
    THE BLACK PRESS: SOLDIERS WITHOUT SWORDS (1999, assistant editor)

    Gordon is an editor and producer whose work often focuses on African-American subjects. She most recently directed her first film, BADDDDD SONIA SANCHEZ.

Executive Producers:

  • Sally Jo Fifer
    Past Sundance docs:

    NEWTOWN (2016)
    TRAPPED (2016)
    (T)ERROR (2015)

    President/CEO of ITVS Fifer has regularly provided funding and broadcast support for past Sundance films. She is also an executive producer for fellow 2017 US Documentary Competition title THE FORCE and for 2017 World Cinema Documentary Competition entry MOTHERLAND.

  • Justine Nagan and Chris White
    Combined past Sundance docs:

    PERVERT PARK (2015)
    LIFE ITSELF (2014)

    American Documentary’s Executive Director and Executive Producer respectively frequently include Sundance alumni as part of the long-running POV series on PBS. Nagan previously served as Executive Director of Kartemquin, for which she executive produced LIFE ITSELF. Both also serve as executive producers for this year’s MOTHERLAND.

Supervising Producer:

  • Michael Kinomoto
    Past Sundance docs:

    BEST OF ENEMIES (2015, Supervising Producer for ITVS)
    WHITE LIGHT/BLACK RAIN (2007, Associate Producer)

    Kinomoto has served as a supervising producer for ITVS since 2014, working on several Sundance alumni that have screened on its Independent Lens series.


  • Lindsay Utz
    Past Sundance docs:

    GOOD: INTERNET CENSORSHIP (short) (2009, director)

    Utz previously cut the Oscar shortlisted feature doc BULLY.

Assistant Editors:

  • Tim Fryett, Ellen Knechel
    This is both Fryett’s and Knechel’s first Sundance credit.

Why You Should Watch:
The Rainey family are open, endearing, and genuine subjects, full collaborators in Olshefski’s wide-ranging portrait. Despite chronicling hardships and tragedies, the film ultimately offers an uplifting counter-narrative to typical mainstream depictions of African-American lives.

More Info:

For Sundance screening dates and times, click the film title in the first paragraph.

To experience the festival through the eyes of this year’s filmmakers, follow my Sundance 2017 Twitter list.

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Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Recommendations, Sundance

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