Quest of a lifetime: Film prof nets $100K MacArthur grant

Quest of a lifetime: Film prof nets $100K MacArthur grant


A Rowan filmmaker’s nearly 10-year quest – making a movie about a man named Quest – last month earned a huge vote of approval in the form of a $100,000 MacArthur Foundation grant.

Assistant Film Professor Jonathan Olshefski received the grant for Quest: the Fury and the Sound, the story of Christopher “Quest” Rainey and his struggle to build a music business while raising a family in North Philadelphia.

Quest uses his home-based rap studio as a mission of sorts through which he serves the community, a place where friends struggling with both their past and their present use music as a therapeutic outlet.

One of 19 recipients out of about 500 applicants for the prestigious and highly competitive MacArthur Foundation Documentary Film Grant, Olshefski said the award will enable him to move the project to the crucial next step: post production.

He’s shot about 300 hours of film and, after hiring a producer and editor with proceeds from the grant, will condense his footage to about 90 minutes.

“We’re about ready for a full-on push for post production and hope to have it completed in 2017,” he said. “I’ve been working on it for nine years but it takes a lot. Every frame, every shot matters and you don’t want to rush it.”

Film within a film

While shooting the movie, Olshefski created a powerful short film after Quest’s then-13-year-old daughter was wounded, the unintended victim of a shooting.

Just 23 minutes long, After the Sound: PJ’s Story follows Patricia “P.J.” Rainey, a smart, effervescent young woman who maintains a good school attendance record, plays drums and loves shooting baskets. She’s a normal, healthy child, but she carries external and internal scars from the bullet wound.

Olshefski in 2014 won the Award of Merit in the Documentary Short category for PJ’s Story at the University Film & Video Association conference at Montana State University.

That year he also was one of 10 budding filmmakers out of 200 chosen for the annual Independent Filmmaker Project’s Documentary Lab, an intensive nine-month workshop and mentoring program in Brooklyn.

He describes his filmmaking process as “relational,” one in which he’s not just filming subjects but really getting to know them, blurring the lines between documentarian, family and friend.

“Other than my immediate family I probably hang out with Quest and his family more than anybody else,” Olshefski said. “Spending time with them and sharing life with them has been an amazing honor. He’s connecting with people and doing what he does is incredibly inspiring.”

More than just moving his project forward, Olshefski hopes the MacArthur grant leads to other funding avenues as he works to complete the film.

Meanwhile, he said, the grant will provide invaluable source material for the classroom.

“For students entering the creative arts field, the media arts field, you really have to scratch, claw and grind your way forward,” he said. “When I first graduated I was doing construction and photography on the side. You make mistakes but just find your way and that’s what I’ve been sharing with my students. Unless you’re a trust fund kid, which Rowan students typically are not, you have to fight for a few years but, if you do that, good things will happen.”

For more information about Quest: the Fury and the Sound, please visit the film’s Facebook page and website,