The Gospel of Eureka
2019, NR, 74 min. Directed by Donal Mosher, Michael Palmieri.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., March 8, 2019
By turns wry, quirky, joyful, and above all human, this easygoing but never less than fascinating documentary focuses on the surprisingly tolerant township of Eureka, Ark. A deeply evangelical Christian community that’s home to both the Christ of the Ozarks – the largest statue of Jesus in America which looms over Eureka’s equally massive annual The Great Passion Play – and a large, loud, and proud LGBTQ community. What’s surprising, especially when viewed from our current MAGA-fied culture war, is how well the two groups appear to get along, with the guiding principles at play less “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone” and more “Thou Shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” In these hysterical times, The Gospel of Eureka is a gentle, almost folksy reminder that not all is lost.
Directors Mosher and Palmieri conduct fly-on-the-wall interviews with various residents, among them a gay preacher and his straight son who are nothing if not paragons of peaceable familial ties, sexual preferences notwithstanding. There’s also a deeply moving portrait of a middle-aged gay couple, married for 31 years, one of whom runs Eureka Live Underground, an LGBTQ watering hole that doubles as the burg’s drag show epicenter. ”Just because you’re a Christian doesn’t have anything to do with who you’re fucking, it has to do with who you’re loving,” he sagely notes, adding, “We’re like a hillbilly Studio 54.”
While the film feels a bit like early Errol Morris circa Gates of Heaven, the directors also take pains to note the darker side of Eureka’s history: a long-ago bastion of the KKK, lynchings, a trans woman shot in the head and dragged behind a car, and the fact that the man behind that famous giganto-Christ, Gerald L.K. Smith, was a raving anti-Semite and white nationalist.
Still, the overall tone of The Gospel of Eureka is one of acceptance. The filmmakers amusingly cross-cut between The Great Passion Play and drag queens belting out religious numbers over at Eureka Live Underground, and a minor tangent involving infamous homophobe and citrus fanatic Anita Bryant is downright heartwarming. Recommended.