Holy Frit! Courtesy PIFF

Holy Frit! is a two-hour documentary about making stained-glass, and… wait, wait, wait! It’s actually a lot more interesting than you may think—but not always in the way the director may have intended.

Like many artists, Tim Carey is technically talented, but unable to find that magical “thing” that launches painters to greatness. So he stumbles into a job at an LA stained-glass company, begins learning the craft, and then helps the business win a huge bid with a Kansas megachurch to create the largest stained-glass window in the world. The problem is, he has no idea how to do it, and only three years to accomplish this herculean task. He enlists the help of world renowned (and very eccentric) glass artist, Narcissus Quagliata, and off we go on a journey that explores the meaning of art while sharing plot points from The Mighty Ducks and How Stella Got Her Groove Back.

A lot of documentaries are forced to pull out all the visual bells and whistles to fill in the cracks where information or video are lacking. But director Justin S. Monroe jumped on this particular train very early in the process, so we’re able to follow the multi-layered process from start to finish. As a protagonist, Carey is a likable, artistically frustrated grump who slowly flowers under Quagliata’s mentorship, learning that art isn’t achieved by hitting deadlines, but taking the time to do one’s personal best every step along the way. It’s a classic tale of an underdog overcoming impossible odds, and Monroe’s cast of misfits hit all the sweet spots of these tropes while introducing the audience to a gorgeous art form that’s slowly perishing.

At the same time, Holy Frit! raises unintended questions for the viewer about the purpose of documentaries, and what’s not being said and why. For example, moments of conflict between overworked coworkers and neglected family members are quickly mentioned and glossed over. Likewise, nothing is ever made of why a megachurch siphoned millions from its parishioners to build a pretty, but wholly unnecessary, and obscenely ostentatious monument to Christianity that would’ve made Jesus roll over in his tomb. (This same monument, in one panel, pictures homophobic, civil rights obstructionist Rev. Billy Graham shoulder-to-shoulder with Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.)

Also heavily featured in the doc is Portland’s own Bullseye Glass—who supplied the glass used in this massive project, but was also the center of a 2016 firestorm of controversy (first reported by the Mercury) after the DEQ discovered significant amounts of toxic cadmium and arsenic in the soil near their business. Bullseye’s oversized sense of entitlement and refusal to admit that for 47 years they’d been emitting toxins into the nearby neighborhood (and the children’s daycare next door) is on full display in this documentary, and the filmmakers make no attempt to present any facts other than the heavily skewed opinions and false equivalencies made by its subjects. Under intense public and state pressure, Bullseye eventually installed emission control systems that reduced the risk to everyone around them—but in this documentary, their entitlement and lack of empathy for their neighbors is as strong as ever. Frankly, it’s gross.

And that’s too bad, because for the average viewer, Holy Frit! is an entertaining, well-made, and mostly fascinating meditation on what makes art “art”—which is, of course, the endless pursuit of truth. It’s definitely worth your time, even though the filmmakers fall short of that lofty goal.


Here's how you can stream Holy Frit! as part of the Portland International Film Festival.