Jonathan Olshefski, TCS class of 2000, is the filmmaker of the documentary Quest: A Portrait of an American Family, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2017. Since then, Quest has won numerous awards and been screened at over 75 film festivals across the globe. “It’s cool to see audiences connecting to the story at screenings. Even though they come from different cultures and different walks of life, they connect to this universal human story,” Jonathan said.
In Quest, Jonathan documents 10 years of the Rainey family’s successes and trials in North Philadelphia. Christopher “Quest” Rainey runs a recording studio for local hip hop artists. And together, with the support of his wife, Christine’a “Ma Quest,” and their daughter, PJ, the Raineys strengthen their community in inspiring ways.
Jonathan spent so many years filming the Raineys because he wanted to capture their voices in an authentic way. “I didn’t want [the film] to be me imposing my perspective,” he said. “If a documentary is done right, it can be empowering for the subject; but if it’s done wrong, the filmmaker can go into a community that’s already marginalized and take their voice away.” During those years of filming, Jonathan became friends with the Rainey family, and they even attended Jonathan’s wedding. “I’m grateful to them for sharing their lives and friendship. I was really on the receiving end of a lot of love,” he said.
Jonathan also addressed the role that race played in his project. Even though he stood out as a white man filming in a predominantly black area, he was embraced by the Raineys and their North Philly community. However, while attending film festivals with Quest, Jonathan witnessed the racist comments and reactions that his friend faced first-hand. “Racism goes really deep, and it’s a sad thing,” Jonathan said. “Sometimes it’s super subtle, and we need to address it as a society. We don’t have to agree on everything, but we can still see the common humanity that we share.”
Jonathan discovered his love for filmmaking in middle school, when he created skateboarding videos with friends. After graduating from Trinity, he enrolled in the film program at Temple University, and also earned an MFA in Film and Media Arts from Temple. Jonathan is grateful for his years at Trinity. “I was very academically prepared for college,” he said. He also mentioned the lifetime friendships he made at TCS, which have played an important role in his post-high school years. When asked what advice he would give high school-age Jonathan, he said, “Just be bold with who you are and your art,” while noting that most of his hard lessons needed to be learned through experience.
Jonathan currently lives in Philadelphia with his wife and sons. He’s also working on his next documentary, which features a creative Native American family in South Dakota.
In the past year, Jonathan has travelled everywhere from Amsterdam to India to host discussions and film premieres. He continues to screen Quest at theaters across the country, and also shares it in churches, colleges, and community basketball courts in order to bring people together to discuss the film’s themes of supporting the arts and healing community trauma. Jonathan wants the film to be a catalyst to conversation. “I see it as a spark that leaders can use to further the good work they’re doing,” he said. If you would like to host a screening of Quest at your church or in your community, you can contact Jonathan.
Quest premiered in Pittsburgh in January 2018, and is currently available to purchase through itunes. The documentary with a rare 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating is also scheduled to air Monday, June 18 on POV on PBS.