"Quest" [Review]

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The person known as Quest is a North Philly resident who owns a studio that has a "Freestyle Friday" open-house. Residents of the turbulently violently area come into the studio every Friday to throw some rhymes into the mic, with the help of Quest as producer and beat-maker. It's a chance for therapeutic healing, as many of these would-be rappers struggle day to day with the neighbourhoods alarming presence of gang violence and poverty. This is also a chance to have free studio time, a luxury which usually cost in the thousands.

Jonathan Olshefski's moving documentary, which I saw this past January at Sundance, follows Quest and his wife Christine Rainey, a women's shelter employee, sometimes referred to as "Ma Quest," for 8 years as they try to help heal a community in need of radical communal change. They each have kids from previous marriages and one child together: P.J. It's not just community work they provide but stumping for Obama during his 2008 presidential campaign. this was back when hope was a viable possibility for black communities Nationwide and his presidency wasn't the catalyst for what would be eight years of rioting and social disapproval.

Of course, like any family followed over the span of eight years, twists and turns happen. That's life. It's a good thing that Olshefski's camera was there to capture almost every single important moment, all simple but effective and too good to be revealed here. His film is a collection of moments that, thanks to incredible editing, makes the film feel like a natural flowing narrative. And yet, although clocking at just 104 minutes, the film feels epic, a time-spanning journey into the black experience in America. Working-class life is shown in unexpectedly touching ways, but, at the end of it all, this is a movie that's more a slice of life not too far removed from the likes of "Hoop Dreams," zeroing in first and foremost on the characters. Just like any indisputably great documentary, "Quest" pulls you in with a key event, an innocent main character wounded in a drug-related gunfight, her eye shot and then this inventively formless documentary begins to show the true horrors behind the gang epidemic ravaging through the streets of many American cities.

There are tender moments as well, a walk-to-school conversation father and daughter, an emotionally depressed would-be-musician being calmed down, it's the mix of personal and political that makes Olshefski's film one of the year's best documentaries [B+]

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