Evangelical Christian Values and LGBTQ+ Rights Commune and Collide in ‘The Gospel of Eureka’, Premiering Monday, June 24.
In this Southern town, they put on one hell of a show.
Love, faith and civil rights collide in a Southern town. The Gospel of Eureka takes a personal and often comical look at negotiating differences between religion and belief, where gospel drag shows and passion plays set the stage for one hell of a show.
Directed by Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher, and narrated by Mx Justin Vivian Bond, The Gospel of Eureka has its national broadcast debut on the PBS documentary series POV and pov.org on Monday, June 24 at 10 p.m. (check local listings). POV is American television’s longest-running independent documentary series now in its 32nd season.
With a population of 2,073, Eureka Springs, Arkansas, is known for two things: being a Southern haven for LGBTQ+ people and their allies, and the long-running Great Passion Play, an elaborately produced reenactment of Jesus’s life and crucifixion in an amphitheater that seats 4,100. Towering over the site of the evangelical production is a giant statue of Jesus known as Christ of the Ozarks, a seven-story-tall white statue of Jesus that peers down over the Ozark mountains.
The Gospel of Eureka invites viewers to consider the parallel universes of the Passion Play and residents with conservative Christian values and the LGBTQ+ performers and patrons at an irreverent drag queen show at a popular gay bar. Stereotypes fall away as the audience is introduced to Eureka citizens from these worlds, each involved in a quest for love, spiritual devotion and civil rights.
From the star of the Passion Play, who plays Jesus and drives much of the production work, to Roxie, a transgender woman and LGBTQ+ activist who ardently watches the play with her husband, Earl, The Gospel of Eureka introduces us to a cast of characters full of deeply held personal convictions and contradictions, all whole-heartedly living their truths.
We meet Walter Burrell and Lee Keating, life partners and devout Christians who own the raucous Eureka Live Underground, a bar where drag queens Felicia, Missy, Ginger and Charnay lip sync gospel and country tunes. Lee, a jovial former professional Latin dancer and hairdresser with a myriad of health problems, dubs the bar the “Hillbilly Studio 54.” The pair have been together since 1986 and married when it became legal. Both are active in their church, where they established a ministry to care for people with AIDS.
Known as the “gay capital of the Ozarks,” Eureka Springs in 2007 created a domestic partnership registry that allowed gay couples to affirm their partnerships publicly, well before same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide in 2015. As captured in the film, however, tensions occasionally flare between Eureka’s gay community and the town's conservative Christians.
In 2015, the annual Easter parade coincided with the LGTBQ-led Diversity Weekend; the Easter parade organizers barred an LGBTQ-friendly Methodist congregation from participating. Some conservative organizers campaigned to overturn the town’s anti-discrimination policy, but when it was put to a referendum vote, Eureka’s residents voted to uphold the ordinance.
“We consider this project a continuation of the cinematic exploration of the links between class, commerce and American ritual that is central to our work. In an era when fundamentalism in both faith and politics rules the national stage, we hope to present a drama that explores the complex nature of belief and the fluid nature of faith but also provides personal windows into the issues and problems facing America as a whole,” said filmmakers Palmieri and Mosher.
“The Gospel of Eureka is a film about community and co-existence,” said Chris White, executive producer for POV. “Mosher and Palmieri’s study of Eureka captures with verve and flare the fundamental contradictions of being human, and the rewards—and enjoyment—in reconciling those differences within and amongst ourselves.”
Cinema, like theater, can heighten our belief or make us believe the unbelievable. It can also disrupt and deconstruct our belief. Without condescension we hope to show that what is crass, campy, or even profane in the eyes of one group is sacred and full of communal significance in the eyes of another. We consider this project a continuation of the cinematic exploration of the links between class, commerce, and American ritual that is central to our work. In an era where fundamentalism in both faith and politics rule the national stage we hope to present a drama that explores the complex nature of belief and the fluid nature of faith but also provides personal windows into the issues and problems facing America as a whole.
—Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher, Directors, The Gospel of Eureka
About the Filmmakers:
Michael Palmieri & Donal Mosher, Directors
Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher are a documentary directing team who have worked together for over a decade. Their films have exhibited at major festivals around the world including Sundance, Tribeca, NYFF, LAFF, True/False, Cannes, Locarno, and Leipzig. Their first film, October Country, was the winner of the Silverdocs Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary Feature, was nominated for Best Documentary at the Independent Spirit awards in 2009, playing in festivals around the world winning numerous awards, including two Cinema Eyes. The filmmakers were recognized in 2010 by Filmmaker magazine as one of the 25 New Faces of Independent film. Their second feature, Off Label, was released by Oscilloscope films in 2012. Their short film work includes the award-winning Rougarouing, a film that explores the ritual of Mardi Gras in rural Louisiana, and the Field of Vision short film Peace in the Valley, exploring the conflict between evangelicals and the LGBT community in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.
Charlotte Cook, Producer
Charlotte Cook is a producer, film curator, and writer. In September 2015, along with filmmakers Laura Poitras and AJ Schnack, Charlotte created and launched Field of Vision, a new film unit that commissions and assigns short form and episodic creative visual journalism. Prior to Field of Vision, she was the Director of Programming at Hot Docs, North America’s largest documentary\ festival. In London, Charlotte was the Head of Film Programming and Training at The Frontline Club, an organisation dedicated to championing independent journalism and freedom of expression. She has also worked with BBC Storyville, the Channel 4 BritDoc Foundation’s Puma Creative Catalyst Fund and the Edinburgh International Film Festival, where she curated the strand Conflict | Reportage. Charlotte holds a degree in Technological Science and has a Master’s Degree in Documentary Filmmaking. She has written extensively for a number of different outlets and was the main photographic researcher for the launch of The Times Online (UK) archive project. In addition to Field of Vision, Charlotte is currently a programmer at CPH:DOX and is producing films for Michael Palmieri & Donal Mosher, Nathan Truesdell and with Intrepid Cinema for Mike Day.
Directors: Michael Palmieri, Donal Mosher
Producers: Charlotte Cook
Co-Producer: Nathan Truesdell
Executive Producer: Rob Epstein
Executive Producers: Jeff Hepper and Kellie Hepper
Director of Photography: Michael Palmieri
Additional Cinematography: Nathan Truesdell and Donal Mosher
Editor: Michael Palmieri
Narration by: Mx Justin Vivian Bond
Narration Written by: Donal Mosher
Original Music: Michael Palimieri, Donal Mosher, Ben Braden, Danny Grody
Executive Producers for POV: Justine Nagan, Chris White