While drag queens perfect their onstage look in a backstage mirror, another cast of performers with caked-on makeup and dramatic eyeliner prepare for an installment of a three-times weekly performance of the “The Great Passion Play,” under the outstretched arms of a massive “Christ of the Ozarks” statue, all in the curious town of Eureka Springs, Arkansas.
In their 2016 short “Peace in the Valley,” filmmakers Donal Mosher and Michael Palmieri paired the town’s two scenes together, a glimpse into a seemingly inharmonious coexistence.
Their full-length documentary “The Gospel of Eureka” extends their visit to the town and the lives of its polar opposite population, honoring the time spent and trust built among its subjects and finding more nuance, humor and common ground than conflict.
The festival screens more than 200 films across the city Oct. 17-25
Framed within the days leading up to and on the night of a vote on a ballot measure that would exclude transgender people from using bathrooms that match their gender identity, “The Gospel of Eureka” anchors itself in the isolated amphitheater that attracts thousands of Christians and onlookers to the Orlando stunt show version of the story of Christ’s death. But down below, Eureka Springs’ LGBTQ residents discuss their Southern identities and how religion factors into them, despite bigotry from their fellow flock members.
Partners Gregory Lee Keating and Walter Burrell, who run the drag bar Eureka Live Underground, grapple with that disharmony in candid, hilarious and heartbreaking testimony, while Kent Butler, the Passion Play’s star, worships through his mechanical devotion to his craft, in his exemplary marketing-speak and (often unintentionally funny) pitch-perfect performance. As it often does, love prevails, but it’s only through their compassion, exemplified in drag singalong in the margins of a city that promotes its healing properties.