PORT TOWNSEND — “Holy Frit,” the winner of the Audience Choice Award and Spirit of the Port Townsend Film Festival Award, is available for on-demand streaming throughout this week as November’s Port Townsend Film Festival Pic.
The movie is the true story of two artists: Narcissus Quagliata and Tim Carey, who collaborate on a 3,400-square-foot stained glass window, the largest in the world.
Yet it’s not just about stained glass, said its reluctant-at-first director Justin Monroe. “Holy Frit” is about a do-or-die life challenge. Carey took on the project with no idea how to pull it off, just as Monroe embarked on making the film despite not wanting to direct a documentary at all.
A ticket to “Holy Frit” can be purchased by visiting PTfilmfest.com. The $15 charge includes both the two-hour movie and an interview with Monroe and Carey; the package is available through this Sunday.
Monroe, a Los Angeles-based maker of non-documentary cinema, learned of Carey’s project many years ago. Carey and the company where he worked, Judson Studios, had beat out five dozen others to land this huge contract: build a 93-foot by 37-foot stained-glass window for the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan.
There would be 161 panels, each 4 feet by 5 feet.
Cost: $3.4 million.
Imbuing the window with luminous colors, knitting all those panels together, giving the work soul: Carey, with the quirky Quagliata at his side, learned as he went. And Monroe, as he began to realize the size of the challenge, could not turn away.
He began filming “Holy Frit” in November 2014. The title, Monroe explained for perhaps the thousandth time, refers to the granulated silica material used in the glassmaking process. It’s called frit.
“Some people think I’m just being cheeky,” Monroe said, considering another word with which frit rhymes. In fact, he hoped the title would “play on the irreverent versus the reverent. That’s Tim,” he said of Carey.
The movie, Monroe added, follows Carey up an artistic mountain replete with big rocks and blind bends in the trail. Religion and a megachurch are involved, but they’re not the only elements of the story.
Released in February, “Holy Frit” has screened around the world, winning the Grand Jury Prize for best documentary feature at Utah’s Slamdance festival, the Audience Award at the Naples, Fla., film festival and the Best International Feature Documentary prize at the Edmonton, Canada, international film festival.
The movie is still making the rounds, Monroe in tow. Of the 17 festivals where “Holy Frit” has screened, six have been in person so far. The rest, like Port Townsend’s, were virtual.
Port Townsend Film Festival Executive Director Janette Force, along with programmer Jane Julian, called Monroe in late September to surprise him with the news of his $1,000 Spirit of the Festival award.
“I was completely shocked. I didn’t know why they were calling me,” the filmmaker said, adding he’s still reeling from the accolades and the audience response.
“I made the movie because it was something that called to me. I didn’t know how it would be received,” he said.
Monroe was in the middle of raising money for a whole other narrative film project when he heard about Carey’s adventure in the making.
“I had this inkling: This is going to take my life in another direction that I did not plan whatsoever,” he recalled.
“I was not in any way looking for this. It sort of found me. I knew I had to give everything to it.”
At this point, Monroe and “Holy Frit” have seven more film festivals on their itinerary.
It turns out, “documentaries can be fun,” the director quipped.
Showing this one to people — and having them respond to it — “is like a dream.”
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]