The Gospel Of Eureka

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Gospel Of Eureka
"The Gospel Of Eureka is fairly straightforward in structure, with no real surprises, but it tells a story that matters." | Photo: Kino Lorber

Rightly or wrongly, the thought of living side by side with LGBT people worries many US Christians. The thought of living side by side with Christians of that ilk worries LGBT people. The city of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, is a place where people are doing their utmost to come together in spite of these concerns. Donal Mosher and Michael Palmieri's documentary explores the spirit that has inspired this choice and looks at what it has meant to people living there.

Eureka Springs is home to just over 2,000 people. In the UK, applying the appellation 'city' to a settlement this size would be regarded as generous; we might extend to 'village' but we'd be surprised if it had its own post office. Eureka Springs not only has that, it has a thriving bar scene and it plays host to several regional festivals. It also puts on an annual passion play which, in keeping with its commitment to integration and mutual celebration, is followed by a drag show in which sequinned queens deliver religious anthems that come straight from the heart.

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Not everybody here supports 'the gay lifestyle', as one man puts it. But to him, that's beside the point. He's a believer in the Christian commandment to love one's neighbour and he'll respect other people's choices as long as they respect his. For Lee and Walter, owners of a local gay bar, it's even simpler: they have a deep-seated faith of their own (even if they don't quite see it in the same way as one another). They don't see a conflict between their sexuality and religion; they just want space to worship alongside others. Then there are people like the owner of the town's Christian t-shirt shop, who is full of love and support for his gay father.

The Gospel Of Eureka sometimes lays it on a bit thick and gets so sugary that one almost feels it should come with a health warning for diabetic viewers, but there's no denying the importance of its message in an era marked by divisive rhetoric. As the town comes together to prepare the passion play, everyone lends a hand. We see people hard at work constructing the props and preparing their costumes. Others take us inside their homes and businesses.There's a thriving local industry selling religious tat that could put the gift shops at Lourdes to shame, and something of the same ethos affects the play - Jesus is streaked with fake blood that looks like pound shop raspberry sauce. One half expects the ghost of Herschell Gordon Lewis to appear and start handing out Kentucky fried chicken.

This mixture of hard work and make-do attitude points to something fundamental about a community that has successfully rejected religious sophistry and focused on what it can do for itself. Here gay couples live happily together and trans people walk around with no apparent harassment; everyone seems genuinely neighbourly. The fear of the other is entirely absent. Children tremble at the whipping of Jesus and smile delightedly at the drag performers and nobody worries either way that they won't be able to find their own path through life. If there's a dark side to life here, it's kept well out of sight. The only thing that might feel disconcerting to viewers is the intensity of some of the religious zeal, but it's a zeal entirely focused on spreading a message of joy, of a God who has grace enough for everyone.

The Gospel Of Eureka is fairly straightforward in structure, with no real surprises, but it tells a story that matters, stepping boldly away from the popular narrative. It's a refreshing antidote to familiar cynicism and its producers deserve credit for taking a chance on something different.

Reviewed on: 01 Feb 2019
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The Gospel Of Eureka packshot
Love, faith, and civil rights collide in the south as evangelical Christians and drag queens step into the spotlight to explore the meaning of belief.

Director: Donal Mosher, Michael Palmieri

Writer: Donal Mosher

Starring: Justin Vivian Bond

Year: 2018

Runtime: 75 minutes

Country: US

Festivals:

Sqiff 2018
Flare 2019

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