First published in the March 25 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.
By Haley Sawyer
When Justin Monroe moved to Los Angeles, one of the first places he watched a film in was the historic Rialto Theatre in South Pasadena. Years later, on March 19, he saw his own work on the venue’s big screen.
“This is gonna sound so cheesy, but it is a dream come true,” Monroe, who lives in South Pasadena, said. “I mean, I watched a film right there dreaming to be a filmmaker, you know, and I just never would have guessed this.”
In front of Monroe’s eyes, and the eyes of 450 other guests, images of vibrantly colored glass art featured in the award-winning documentary “Holy Frit” washed over the Rialto screen, which is now owned by Mosaic South Pasadena, a non-denominational church.
The plot follows glass artist and South Pasadena resident Tim Carey as he embarks on the biggest project of his creative career: a stained-glass window roughly the size of a basketball court to be featured in a $90 million church in Leawood, Kansas.
Shots of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection’s grandeur were juxtaposed with the modest arrangements of Mosaic’s Rialto decor, which features folding chairs and art deco-influenced design from the mid-1920s.
Additional humble images of South Pasadena — from Judson Studios where Carey works to South Pasadena Little League games — appear onscreen as Carey works with tenured and talented glass artist Narcissus Quagliata, Judson Studios and Bullseye Glass in a race to finish the window.
The film shows how 160 glass panes, which feature myriad scenes from the Bible, were completed in South Pasadena, then shipped to Kansas where the massive window was assembled at the church’s construction site.
“There were so many people that really wanted to see it happen,” Carey said of working in South Pasadena. “And I think when it comes down to doing something difficult, the city got behind us in a lot of different ways. Not only the people, the community, but the government.”
The idea to make “Holy Frit” was borne out of neighborly conversation between Monroe and Carey.
“We were drinking beer, which is what neighbors do,” Carey said. “You walk out on your porch and you’ve got a beer and you look over, ‘hey, you’re drinking a beer.’ Let’s chat.”
The conversation began with what each one does for a living and a partnership was formed. Carey needed promotional materials and Monroe had the video capabilities to help out. When Carey mentioned the massive window he was working on, Monroe was drawn in, but not necessarily because of the art itself.
“I didn’t make a movie about stained glass,” Monroe said. “To me, it was a vehicle to communicate the human spirit to do something that’s literally beyond its limit. The ‘we cannot accomplish this thing, and yet we’re going to do it anyway.’”
The film, along with Monroe and Carey, toured festivals around the country before finishing up in South Pasadena, at an event that was hosted by the South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce.
“I just thought, ‘this movie has to be shown in South Pasadena,’” Andrew Berk, the chamber’s chair, said. “I wanted all my friends and neighbors to see this incredible piece of work. It’s Tim and Justin’s, but it’s South Pas’.”
Monroe explained in a post-screening Q&A with himself and Carey that “Holy Frit” had gotten picked up in a distribution deal, but did not disclose the name of the distributor. Carey said that he’d like his next big project to be sports-related.
“Say yes to yourself for a moment,” he said. “When you say yes, I feel like you open up a chasm, and other things rush to support you.
“Things go bad in this world, for sure. But I think more people want to do the impossible. They believe the impossible. They believe in something that’s transcendent and they just want someone to invite them. So come along.”