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The Gospel Of Eureka

by Roger Walker-Dack
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Mar 8, 2019
'The Gospel Of Eureka'
'The Gospel Of Eureka'  

Eureka Springs, Arkansas is a city that is a little hard to believe. In fact, the opening scenes of the documentary "The Gospel of Eureka," in which the local pastor is describing the small Christian theme park - which is the home to their celebrated passion play - seems awfully reminiscent of a Christopher Guest mockumentary.

This, however, is the true story of two very different communities that seem to exist comfortably side by side, connected by their common bond of a love for Jesus. They are both overlooked by the giant Christ of the Ozark's statue that, since 1966, has dominated the city skyline. It was the idea of a far-right, fiercely anti-Semitic clergyman called Gerald L.K. Smith, who was also the one who had grand ideas for the religious theme park.

Nowadays, the vast amphitheater struggles to fill a small proportion of its seats when it still regularly mounts their epic passion play with a huge amateur cast that seems to comprise of almost half of the city's inhabitants. It's like a very low-budget version of how Disney would interpret the persecution, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Meanwhile, in another part of the city, there is another performance space, also run by a devoted Christian couple, where the acts are over-dressed drag queens lip-synching to gospel songs. The venue is Eureka Live Underground, a gay dance bar run by the affable Lee Keating and Walter Burrell, the first same-sex couple in the area to be married. While the mild-mannered audience of the passion play discreetly fills envelopes with donations, the bar's excited crowd enthusiastically stuff dollar bills down the drag queen's cleavage.

This gem of a film, co-directed by Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher, carefully aims to be as nonpartisan as possible, although the fact that the narration is purred by Mx Justin Vivian Bond would indicate where their sympathies lie. However, they focus not only on the mutual respect these two disparate groups have for each other but also on how some of their members came together to successfully fight an obnoxious a local bathroom bill.

The filmmakers cleverly edit the material, intermingling scenes of the passion play with clips of the drag queens strutting their stuff, to great effect. There are some very touching scenes, such as an older trans couple intently watching a performance of the Passion play, and the sense of determination when there is a sudden downpour of rain on the local Gay Pride parade.

Eureka Springs is hardly a perfect paradise, as Bond reminds us that some of its more scenic places have also witnessed hate crimes. But the overall feeling this compelling doc leaves us with is one of hope. Nowhere is this better epitomized than a scene in which a father of three (whose own preacher father had come out as gay) explains about love and tolerance to his own children.

Whilst a trip to visit Eureka Springs may never be in the cards, this unmissable movie definitely should be.

Roger Walker-Dack, a passionate cinephile, is a freelance writer, critic and broadcaster and the author/editor of three blogs. He divides his time between Miami Beach and Provincetown.


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