Five Questions With... Sabrina Schmidt Gordon, Producer of QUEST

Christopher "Quest" Rainey and his wife, Christine’a, are raising their kids in a North Philadelphia neighborhood beset by poverty, drugs, and violence. As an antidote, the Raineys nurture the community in their basement music studio, but this creative sanctuary can’t always keep them safe. Sensitively filming this open, genuine, and loving family over the course of a decade, Jonathan Olshefski constructs an ultimately uplifting counternarrative to typical depictions of African-American lives.

Read more with Producer Sabrina Schmidt Gordon, and come see QUEST on Thursday, June 22 at 9:00 PM and/or Friday, June 23 at 1:45 PM!

NFF: How did the film come to you? Had you worked with Jonathan before?

Sabrina: Jonathan and I met through a mutual filmmaker friend. He had been filming for several years and was ready to start putting the film together. Jonathan is a photographer, and this would be his first film. Our friend told him that he needed a team, and recommended me. I work mostly as and editor and producer, so he thought I’d be someone who could advise and provide support on these different aspects of the filmmaking process. When Jonathan reached out to me and sent me some clips he had assembled, I realized that I had seen the footage before. He had applied for a grant and I happened to be one of the reviewers. The bad news was that he wasn’t selected to be one of the recipients. The good news was that there was a lot we liked about the material, so I agreed to meet with him, and we had a long discussion about what I thought were the challenges with the material and how to approach the story and structuring the film. He was very open to feedback, even if critical. He was really committed to making the best film possible, so I was really encouraged by that and excited to collaborate with him. He mentioned that he applied for a grant that he didn’t get and I said, “yes, I know, I was there!” He was floored. It was pretty funny!

NFF: Shooting took almost a full decade - were you onboard for the whole shoot, and/or aware of the amount of time Jonathan would take to complete it?

Sabrina: No, Jon had been shooting for years when we met. He did continue to shoot after I was onboard, and there was an ongoing joke that Jonathan was never going to stop filming! We didn’t exactly know what the ending would be, but there was a natural arc provided by the election of President Obama in 2008, and the end of his second and final term.

NFF: Do you have a connection to Phily and/or this community?

Sabrina: Well, it’s interesting. I’m from New York and have never lived in Philadelphia, but this is the third Philly-themed film I’ve made. I’ve gotten to know Philadelphia through a camera lens, through the remarkable people who’ve shared their stories.

NFF: What surprised or challenged you the most while you were making the film?

Sabrina: I think stories about Black folks in under-served urban neighborhoods is wrought with stereotypes, mostly negative. They’re also pervasive in our society, so the challenge is how to pierce through the preconceptions people may be bringing to the story, to disrupt them in a way that gets to a much more authentic and nuanced truth.

NFF: Why are you excited to show the film in Nantucket, and/or what do you hope Nantucket audiences will take away?

Sabrina: I hope people will see themselves in the Raineys. There’s a way in which our society is increasingly segregated and stratified that suggests that our worlds are too different for us to understand and relate to one another. QUEST certainly upends that, and goes a long way in sharing the depth, beauty, and complexity of a family, and of a community that is often disparaged, misunderstood, or ignored altogether.