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The bleak optimism of documentary ‘The Gospel of Eureka’

It’s been four days since I saw the sneak preview screening of Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher’s feature-length documentary The Gospel of Eurekaand I’ll admit, I have been putting off writing this review. The film tackles a subject that even those who have studied sexuality and religion, who have written texts about the dichotomy of faith, gender, and sexual identity, still struggle to develop a helpful conclusion on.

Perhaps that is why The Gospel of Eureka is so successful. The film doesn’t bother to spotlight a distinct villain. At one point in time, the documentary attempts to interview a sidewalk protester who wants to explain why God hates Transgender people. He can’t, and the film simply moves on to interview others who have formed a well thought out opinion for themselves.

To simplify the premise of such a powerful and topical film would be criminal. But I’m no expert, so I suppose as an outsider, that is what I will have to do here. Gospel is an essentially optimistic doc that highlights a Bible Belt town called Eureka Springs, Arkansas, which embraces religious and drag pageantry. The best part, after viewing the film, is that it becomes increasingly obvious that those two things actually make quite a bit of sense altogether.

There is an interesting and educational moment in the film where a Pastor’s son, named Jayme Brandt, who owns a religious gift shop, mentions that it was Judas, not Jesus who in the scriptures tried to inject faith into politics. Brandt’s father it turns out is openly out of the closet.

Keating and Burrell, who have been married for 31 years, still don’t quite agree on religion. But that’s ok. That’s not what the documentary is about. Rather it is about one small town that has somehow learned to coexist. They are able to do this because of a general respect for personal belief and identity.

Following the screening was a live drag show and after party at DCTV. I’ve been to a few after parties in my time, none felt quite so celebratory as this one though. I realize now that the reason why was because this film made each viewer feel the sort of hope that has been difficult to find in this political era.

I feel spoiled that I was gifted the chance to see this sort of celebratory joy. As a Jewish Bisexual, I can certainly empathize with a minority’s experience dealing with bigotry. But I also know that this is not my fight, and I certainly don’t have the right to speak for those who identify as Christian or Transgender. But I can honestly say that I am an ally, and I hope that I have been able to do this wonderful film justice in this review.

Find more about the film here. Keep up with Rooftop Films screenings here.

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