Jonathan Olshefski is an artist and documentary filmmaker.

His debut feature documentary, QUEST was nominated for two News and Documentary Emmys in 2019. The film premiered in competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and went on to screen at over 75 festivals nationally and internationally.

In 2017 he was named as one of 25 New Faces in Independent Film by Filmmaker Magazine and mentioned in the New York Times as one of “The 9 New Directors You Need to Watch.” In 2018 he received the “Truer Than Fiction Award” at the Independent Spirit Awards and was selected for a Pew Artist Fellowship.

Olshefski strives to tell intimate and nuanced stories that honor his protagonists’ complexity by employing a production process that emphasizes collaboration, dialogue, and relationship in order to amplify their voices and reflect their points of view in an artful way.

He has an MFA in Film and Media Arts from Temple University and is an Associate Professor at Rowan University where he teaches in the department of Radio, TV, and Film. He lives in Philadelphia with his two sons.


A Portrait of an American Family

Feature Length Documentary (10 years in the making)

World Premiere: Sundance Film Festival 2017: Documentary Feature Competition

Sundance Profile Page –



Filmed with vérité intimacy for almost a decade, QUEST is the moving portrait of an African-American family in North Philadelphia. Beginning at the dawn of the Obama presidency, Christopher “Quest” Rainey, and his wife Christine’a “Ma Quest” Rainey navigate the strife that sometimes grips their “North Philly” neighborhood as they raise a family and cultivate a creative sanctuary for the community in their home music studio. Epic in scope, QUEST is a vivid illumination of race and class in America, and a testament to love, healing and hope.


Official Nominee: Best Documentary | 2019 News and Documentary Emmys

Official Nominee: Outstanding Social Issue Documentary | 2019 News and Documentary Emmys

Official Nominee: 2019 Peabody Awards

Winner: Truer Than Fiction Award | 2018 Independent Spirit Awards

Official Nominee: Best Documentary | 2018 Independent Spirit Awards

Winner: Outstanding Achievement in Editing | 2018 Cinema Eye Honors

Official Nominee: Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking | 2018 Cinema Eye Honors

Official Nominee: Audience Choice Prize | 2018 Cinema Eye Honors

Winner: Reva and David Logan Grand Jury Award | 2017 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival

Winner: Kathleen Bryan Edwards Award for Human Rights | 2017 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival

Winner: Grand Jury Award for Best Feature Documentary | 2017 Dallas International Film Festival

Winner: Grand Jury Award for Best Feature Documentary | 2017 RiverRun International Film Festival

Winner: Les Blank Award: Grand Jury Award for Best Feature Documentary | 2017 Ashland Independent Film Festival

Winner: People’s Voice Award | 2017 Fist Up Film Festival

Winner: Audience Award | 2017 Camden International Film Festival

Winner: Best Documentary Feature | 2017 Baltimore International Black Film Festival

Winner: Best U.S. Documentary | 2017 Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival

Winner: Documentary Jury Award | 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival

Winner: Silver Gateway Award for Second Best Film | 2017 Mumbai Film Festival

Winner: Critic’s Choice Award | 2017 Key West Film Festival

Honorable Mention: Grand Jury Prize for Best Feature Documentary | 2017 Cleveland International Film Festival

Honorable Mention: Grand Jury Prize for Best Feature Documentary | 2017 Nashville Film Festival


“Superb. A living, breathing, stunning documentary.”

“Class and race intersect meaningfully in the wonderful QUEST”
The New York Times

“Recalls Steve James’ Hoop Dreams in both the way it captures people over a long period of a time and in how it finds the profound in the everyday, the universal in the specific.”

“A sweeping and intimate documentary about the struggles of an average American family.”

“QUEST may be one of the most important films about the American experience ever filmed.”
POV Magazine

“This is loving, humane stuff, with the richness of a fat novel”
Sight and Sound

“A testament to the powers of family and individual kindness”
Hollywood Reporter

“One of the most beautiful, moving portraits of a family committed to the screen in recent memory”
Moveable Fest


Film Festivals:

* = attended in person for opening remarks/Q&A

• Sundance Film Festival*, January 19 – 29, 2017
Category: U.S. Documentary Competition
(Competition Selection Rate: 1.4%: 4,068 submissions, 56 selected)
• True/False Film Festival*, March 2 – 5, 2017
• Wisconsin Film Festival, March 30 – April 6, 2017
• New Directors/New Films*, March 16 – 27, 2017
• Full Frame Documentary Film Festival*, April 6 – 9, 2017
(Selection Rate: 4%: 1,700 submissions, 70 selected)
Winner: Reva and David Logan Grand Jury Award (top prize)
Winner: Kathleen Bryan Edwards Award for Human Rights
• Cleveland International Film Festival, March 29 – April 9, 2017
Special Jury Mention: Feature Documentary
• Ashland Independent Film Festival, April 6 – 10, 2017
Winner: Les Blank Award: Grand Jury Award for Best Feature Documentary
• Dallas International Film Festival, March 30 – April 9, 2017
Winner: Grand Jury Award for Best Feature Documentary
• RiverRun International Film Festival, March 30 – April 9, 2017
Winner: Grand Jury Award for Best Feature Documentary
• Wicked Queer LGBT Film Festival at Museum of Fine Arts Boston,
March 30 – April 9, 2017
• Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival, April 13 – 29, 2017
• Nashville Film Festival April 24 – 25, 2017
Honorable Mention: Best Feature Documentary
• BAM: New Voices in Black Cinema Festival*, April 26 – 30, 2017
• Hot Docs*, Toronto Canada, April 27 – May 7, 2017
• Doxa Documentary Film Festival, Vancouver Canada, May 4 – 14, 2017
• Melbourne Human Rights Arts and Film Festival* (Closing Night Film),
Melbourne Australia, May 4 – 18, 2017
• Fist Up Film Festival, Oakland California, May 11, 2017
Winner: People’s Voice Award
• Docaviv Film Festival, Tel Aviv Israel, May 11 – May 20, 2017
• Seattle International Film Festival, May 18 – June 11, 2017
• One Take Film Festival (Opening Night Film), Rochester NY, May 18 – 21, 2017
• Cinetopia* (Opening Night Film), Detroit MI, June 1 – June 11, 2017
• Lighthouse International Film Festival (Documentary Centerpiece), Beach Haven NJ, June 8 – 11, 2017
• Sheffield Doc/Fest*, Sheffield England, June 9 – 14, 2017
• AFI Docs*, Washington DC, June 14 – 18, 2017
• Frameline: San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival, San Francisco CA,
June 18, 2017
• Nantucket Film Festival, June 21 – 26, 2017
• Rooftop Films*, New York NY, July 1, 2017
• Outfest: LGBT Film Festival, Los Angeles CA, July 11, 2017
• Yerbe Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco CA, July 13 – 17, 2017
• Gimli Film Festival, Gimli, Manitoba, Canada, July 23 – 28, 2017
• Guanajuato International Film Festival, San Miguel, Mexico, July 21 – 30, 2017
• Traverse City Film Festival*, Traverse City MI, July 26 – 27, 2017
• New Zealand International Film Festival, July 20 – August 13, 2017
• Guth Gafa International Documentary Film Festival*, Kells, County Meath, Ireland,
August 4 – 7, 2017
• Black Harvest Film Festival*, Chicago IL, August 12 – 14, 2017
• Sound Track Cologne, Cologne Germany, August 23 – 27, 2017
• Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival, Middlebury VT, August 24 – 27, 2017
• Sidewalk Film Festival, Birmingham AL, August 25 – 27, 2017
• Camden International Film Festival*, Camden Maine, September 14 – 17, 2017
Winner: Audience Award
• Hayti Heritage Center, Durham NC, September 21, 2017
• DMZ International Documentary Film Festival, Goyang and Paju City, South Korea, September 21 – 28, 2017
• Zurich Film Festival*, Zurich Switzerland, September 28 – October 8, 2017
• Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, Hot Springs AR, October 6 – 15, 2017
• Milwaukee Film Festival, Milwaukee WI, September 28 – October 12, 2017
• New Orleans Film Festival, New Orleans LA, October 11 – 19, 2017
• Globedocs Film Festival, Boston MA, October 11 – 15, 2017
• Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival*, Mumbai India, October 12 – 18, 2017
• Heartland Film Festival, Indianapolis IN, October 12 -22, 2017
• Alexander Valley Film Festival, Cloverdale CA, October 19 – 22, 2017
• Unorthodox at Wexner Center for the Arts*, Columbus OH, October 19 – 22, 2017
• Vermont International Film Festival, Burlington VT, October 20 – 29, 2017
• Doctober – Pickford Film Center, Bellingham WA, October 23 – November 5, 2017
• Gender Bender: Cessero LGBT Center, Bologna Italy, October 25 – November 5, 2017
• In-Edit: Barcelona, Barcelona Spain, October 26 – November 5, 2017
• Windsor International Film Festival, Windsor, Ontario, Canada October 30 – November 5, 2017
• Denver Film Festival, Denver CO, November 1 – 12, 2017
• Indie Memphis Film Festival, Memphis TN, November 1 – 6, 2017
• Teaneck International Film Festival, NJ, November 2 – 5, 2017
• Rehoboth Beach Film Festival, Rehoboth Beach DE, November 2 -12, 2017
• Brattleboro Film Festival, Brattleboro NJ, November 3 – 12, 2017
• Annapolis Film Festival (special screening), Annapolis MD, November 8, 2017
• Fairhope Film Festival, Fairhope AL, November 9 – 12, 2017
• IDFA (International Documentary Festival Amsterdam)*, Amsterdam Netherlands, November 15 – 26, 2017
• Key West Film Festival, Key West FL, November 15 – 19, 2017


Video Links:

• Gallery Show / Screening Event – pilot for engagement campaign 10/7/2016 – Circle of Hope Gallery – Philadelphia

Quest: The Fury and the Sound – Philly Event – 10-7-2016 from Jonathan Olshefski on Vimeo.


• Co-production in American Documentary | POV, January 2017

• Kartemquin Rough Cut Lab, November 2016

• Good Pitch New York, November 2016 –

• Pare Lorentz / IDA Grant, October 2016

• True/False | Catapult Film Fund Rough Cut Retreat, August 2016

• Co-production with ITVS, April 2016

• Garrett Scott Documentary Development Grant 2016

• Grant from the MacArthur Foundation, January 2016

• Grant from Cinereach Foundation, December 2015

• IFP Documentary Lab – 2015


Punk Rock Mommy


Photo/Transmedia Exhibit, Interactive Website, Animation Installation

Book is forthcoming – seeking publishing partner

Punk Rock Mommy is the story of Andrea Collins-Smith, mother of six, and a good friend. I documented her experience as she fought terminal cancer while she reflected on her life by writing a blog that eventually went viral and culminated in over 600,000 views.

I miss Andrea dearly. Her persistence in compellingly sharing her story through good days and bad days as a means of connecting to others demonstrates the power of narrative to create community. Her choice to collaborate with me throughout her journey was an incredible honor and is what gave me the confidence to pursue everything that I have done since.

These media artifacts include: four different interactive websites, a collection of still photographs hand-printed in a darkroom, three videos, an interactive installation, a booklet/zine, a solo gallery show, and a book that is currently in progress.


• Punk Rock Mommy: Blog –

• Facebook Page –

• Punk Rock Mommy: Memories V.1 –

• Punk Rock Mommy: Memories V.2 –

• Punk Rock Mommy: Ephemeral –

• Punk Rock Mommy: Swindle –

• Gallery Show Website –

• Video from gallery show:

• Punk Rock Mommy article 5/8/2014 : Philadelphia City Paper

• Punk Rock Mommy article 6/18/2014 – Main Course Philly

Depaul USA: We Believe in You


Short Documentary
5 minutes
Completed: February 2014

A recovering heroin addict comes to Depaul House after being released from prison in order to seek a better life. Depaul USA is a nonprofit organization that provides shelter and job training for homeless men in Philadelphia.

I was an artist in residence at Depaul when this film was made. I have served on Depaul USA’s Local Advisory Council since 2014.

• Won an Award of Excellence in promotional video category at the Broadcast Education Association Conference, Festival of Media Arts: Faculty Competition in February 2015.

The Closer Project



Closer: A Journey with Charles is a multi-format, multi-year (2008 – 2013) transmedia documentary project. It seeks to provoke introspection about one’s proximity to marginalized individuals and to question assumptions about people from these communities while creating a complex portrait of a man named Charles as he transitions out of homelessness.

Closer: A Moment with Charles
Completed 2012
Interactive installation: a metaphor for daily erasures that renders certain members of our society invisible.

Documentation website:

• Won “Best in Show” at the International Digital Media Arts Association national conference in November 2012.


reClose: A Journey with Charles
Completed 2013
This chapter conveys Charles’ transition from the streets to housing.

• Received “Honorable Mention” at the International Digital Media Arts Association national conference in November 2013.

Website –

The Scrapper


Documentary – 32 minutes / Photo Essay
Completed 2008

The Scrapper follows the nightly routine of Joe, one of Philadelphia’s scrappers. Scrapping is a way of life in many urban areas where a tremendous amount of wealth is simply thrown into the trash.

After the sun sets Joe traverses the urban landscape in search of treasure. The film sheds light on a hidden, yet pervasive, activity through a man who desires to be respected for doing the activity that he loves. As the secrets of his shadowy activities become revealed so do the details of his surprising past.

• Premiered at the 2008 Chicago Underground Film Festival
• Broadcast run on MiND TV in 2011 – 2016


Whispers in the Storm


A series of photo essays captured in North Philadelphia between 2005 and 2007.

Whispers in the Storm pairs photos essays with audio interviews to tell of stories hope and hardship in North Philadelphia.

Complete series:

Memoir: The Oral History


Interactive Narrative – Flash


As a non-linear, interactive experience Memoir: The Oral History provides fragments of narrative that the participant must piece together in order to reveal a treatise on memory, violence, and who gets labelled “the bad guy” in our society.

Completed 2004