A portrait of a family and a window into the city

Christopher and Christine’a Rainey with Jonathan Olshefski (right), who filmed the family over a decade and now plans a feature documentary.

It is the real-life portrait of a North Philadelphia family filmed over nearly a decade.

The small, everyday moments - and the stakes and drama attached to them.

A father working a job delivering circulars in the North Philly dawn. Or being hassled by police outside his home. A conversation between a mother and daughter, as she braids her child's hair. A daughter pressing for a later curfew.

It's a family shown in all its complexity and beauty and playfulness - and it's a look into the crushing realities that threaten each of them.

It is a father whispering over his daughter's hospital bed after a stray bullet has taken her eye. The tears that run down that 13-year-old girl's cheeks.

It is a window into our city.

For almost a decade, filmmaker Jonathan Olshefski has been filming the Raineys of Norris Street.

Christopher "Quest" Rainey, who cares for his children with jobs such as delivering newspapers, while dedicating himself to a music studio he has built in the family basement. The studio serves as a beacon in the blighted neighborhood around Norris Street - and Quest a mentor to the many kids who come there.

Christine'a "Ma Quest" Rainey, a caring and committed mother who bears the scars of a childhood fire and helps run the studio, while working night shifts at a homeless shelter.

Their daughter, Patricia "PJ" Rainey, a bright and beautiful 16-year-old who loves playing the drums and basketball and would like to study engineering in college. Or maybe even paleontology. She is still trying to work through what happened to her that spring day in 2013 when she was struck by a stray bullet while walking home from a neighborhood playground.

The film is called Quest: The Fury and the Sound.

What started as a grad-school project a decade ago and grew into a decadelong passion project is now getting attention from top film festivals and the Sundance Institute.

Earlier this month, Olshefski was awarded a documentary film grant from the prestigious MacArthur Foundation.

The $100,000 prize will allow him to bring on a production team to help edit down 300 hours of footage into a feature documentary, he says. He hopes to release it next year.

This comes on top of another grant from Cinereach, the nonprofit foundation and production company that financed the 2012 drama Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Ten years ago, Olshefski was a Temple film grad working construction and sleeping on a bunk bed in the hallway of a house he shared in Kensington. He was searching for a way to contribute to a city he loves, but one he sees as plagued by inequality and "divisions."

He decided he would do it with his camera. A short film he made about Quest's studio led to a bigger idea.

"I wanted to show a family in North Philly in all of their complexity and beauty," said Olshefski, 34, an assistant professor of film at Rowan University.

By focusing on the everyday, universal moments, by creating empathy and intimacy, he would tell the story of a family, yes, but also a larger one of what it means to be poor and black and living in an American city in the time of Obama and the Black Lives Matter movement.

The gun violence, the poverty, the entrenched inequality and racism impacting the Raineys' lives - and so many others like them - naturally "forced their way into the film," he said.

His hope is that the film can help build dialogue, or at least serve as a metaphor, for the type of deep commitment and understanding we need to foster if we're truly going to move forward as a city. If we're truly going to bridge those divisions.

That it reminds us that real people, real families like the Raineys are living and struggling in the neighborhoods of our city. That they must be valued.

mnewall@phillynews.com

215-854-2759

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