In a small town called Eureka Springs, nestled in the Ozark Mountains of rural Arkansas, a miracle takes place nearly every day: People with wildly different beliefs and values manage to peacefully co-exist.
The town with a population of 2,000 or so is home to several seemingly irreconcilable groups. Eureka Spring’s economy is driven in part by the nation’s largest outdoor passion play, a massive statue of Jesus stationed near the amphitheater, and a highly-committed actor/director/costume designer who plays Christ and almost runs the entire passion play himself. Eureka Springs is also a progressive hub in Arkansas with a politically active group of citizens and a thriving gay-friendly nightlife with a drag show scene that is second to none.
This miraculous town is the subject of 2018 SXSW film The Gospel of Eureka.
After the success of their Eureka Springs-based documentary short Peace in the Valley, filmmakers Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher went back to Arkansas again and again to film the multi-layered and always-shocking reality of this small town.
For the feature documentary, they added in the incredible voiceover narration of Justin Vivian Bond, whose folksy twang ushers the viewer into a world where anything is possible. After all, in what other town would you see a committed transgender Christian and her husband watch a passion play?
The meaning of this film is found in its juxtapositions, as it quite literally cuts between the passion play crucifixion and a gospel-themed drag show that could theoretically be taking place on the same night in this fascinating town. The “gospel” and the good news of Eureka is the idea that perhaps the town can be seen as a model to emulate in our highly divisive times.
It is not all Kumbaya in Eureka, and the film shows that political and personal disagreement often shows up even in this haven of unexpected peace. There is pain and loss. There is strife and protest. The overarching thesis of the film, however, seems to be that this town’s relatively calm co-existence represents the kind of gospel that deserves further attention. Amen to that.