On a Quest: documentary project leads prof to NYC workshop

On a Quest: documentary project leads prof to NYC workshop


Jonathan Olshefski is on a quest – and working with a man named Quest – to complete a documentary about a family whose home doubles as a hip-hop studio and whose lives intertwine with artists seeking to make it in the music business.

Olshefski, an assistant professor in Rowan’s department of Radio/Television/Film within the College of Communication & Creative Arts, landed a highly competitive workshop spot this spring in which he worked with accomplished filmmakers to edit his project and ready it for release.

The film, Quest: the Fury and the Sound, tells the story of Christopher “Quest” Rainey, his family, his Everquest studio, and the machinations of not only making music but of helping others make it within the confines of Quest’s North Philadelphia home.

One of 10 budding filmmakers out of 200 who applied to the annual Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP) documentary lab in Brooklyn, Olshefski was immersed in five days of workshop studies May 12-16 and will take part in follow-up sessions in September and December.

“This first session was a finishing lab,” said Olshefski, who teaches classes for Rowan’s New Media concentration. “They paired each of us with an editing mentor who helped shape our rough cut.”

His goal is to take 100-plus hours of footage and edit it down to a tight, compelling story. He envisions his final film, which will include a soundtrack by Quest, to be about 80-90 minutes.

The storyline almost begs to be told: while running the hip-hop studio from his home, Quest tries to balance the needs of his family, the demands of his own career, and his desire to help neighborhood rappers, some of whom are wrestling with drug addiction and/or criminal records. But when one of his children is diagnosed with cancer and another is shot, Quest’s values are profoundly challenged.

“There are a lot of issues at play,” Olshefski said. “Rap is part of it, but it’s not the whole story.”

Olshefski, who produced several short films prior to Quest, his first full-length feature, said his storytelling technique is intimate. For every hour of film he’s shot, he’s spent several hours more with Quest, his family, and the artists Quest is helping to make.

“My approach is relational,” he said. “It’s working with my subjects to tell the story with them.”

Long committed to the lives of people in inner cities, Olshefski said he met Quest through his brother James, who he met while teaching a photography class at the New Jerusalem Now recovery center in North Philly.

His film, which began as a still photography project in 2006, may not be ready for release but he’s getting close. A rough cut at 85 minutes prior to the IFP workshop must be edited to “picture lock” quality and then sound, color, and other fine-tuning will be completed.

But that’s when the fun starts – the marketing, distribution and related efforts to get the film before audiences.

“Making the movie is only half the battle,” he said. “Getting it out there is a whole other thing.”