Written by Drew Lascot
“What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?”
In many ways, this classic paradox is the crux of Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher’s barrier-obliterating documentary, The Gospel of Eureka; a showcase of an oddball abode of the Ozark– Eureka Springs, Arkansas.
Something felt different watching Eureka versus other documentaries. It was meandering, feeling less like it was trying to accomplish an objective or flip a switch in the audience’s brain and more like a showcase of a place and the people and their happenings within. This may not sound like it would be very attention-grabbing to start or ultimately very satisfying, but its hands-off approach only does better at being serviceably emotional. Not to mention, the happenings inside this small town are far from typical.
In Eureka Springs, you’ll only find around 2,000 people. It’s an expectedly immovable community of Christians and hosts of “The Great Passion Play”– a lavish live depiction of the life and death of Jesus Christ put on ever since 1968. The show uses over 100 actors (as well as several real sheep, camels, and other appropriate creatures), and all takes place in a 550-foot, on-stage, multi-leveled replica of Jerusalem. There’s even a cave for the actor portraying Jesus to emerge from, complete with genuine bathroom and makeup mirror. In the nearby trees, atop Magnetic Mountain, stands Christ of the Ozarks, the largest statue of Jesus erected in the United States.
Back downtown, in bars across the main thoroughfare, drag shows have become a popular form of entertainment. See, although Eureka Springs may also be hosts to and have the veneer of traditional or conservative values, they don’t see any reason to ditch immovable faith in the face of unstoppable social change. Instead, the seemingly unshakable forces find unity together. Two men, long married to each other, and a late-aged transgender woman married to a cis man all give their own perspectives on this clash of lifestyle and faith, or lack thereof. One gentleman sums things up succinctly but brashly:
“Just because you’re a Christian doesn’t really [sic] have anything to do with who you’re fucking; it has to do with who you’re loving.”
If that line caught you off-guard in a good way, expect to be rolling in your chair throughout your time in Eureka. Sometimes you’ll be laughing with what’s happening, other times you might be cackling in confusion, but it’s important to stress that everything is handled in great humor. Juxtaposing cuts between the Great Passion Play and drag shows does well in highlighting the absurdity of both scenes and keeps things entertaining.
Surprisingly, the most political the movie ever gets is its referring back to the looming Senate Bill 202 in Arkansas, what had been called a ‘road map’ to anti-gay discrimination. The Eureka Springs City Council responded by approving an ordinance against the discrimination of people based on sexual orientation or gender identity and putting the issue to vote in the public. It’s an interesting action taken in a state far enough the other way to propose the bill in the first place.
As much as I appreciated Eureka’s almost paceless approach to documentary film making, sometimes it introduces threads I wish got embellished on, and with a measly 75-minute run time, I felt like my main course was taken from me early with no dessert. Perhaps extra interview footage and more will be added in the DVD release this April, but it still feels like more could have made the final cut of the movie. (To Blu-ray elitists like me: there are currently no plans on HD copies at this time)
Seeing Eureka in a theater may be near impossible at this time, as it was screened at the SIE Film Center. For those unfamiliar, these movies tend to only be in town for a weekend or two before they’re gone, due to their independent nature. But to those interested, seek this one out through any means you can. I’ve personally put in a request at Jeffco Libraries for them to keep a copy in their catalogue, I recommend doing the same to increase all of our chances, and spread the gospel!