"Hillsong" Review

During the opening text of the new documentary Hillsong:  Let Hope Rise, decease the text onscreen notes that the film is “intended as a theatrical worship experience.” It adds that “the filmmakers welcome your participation.” In that way, this new movie is different than many traditional documentaries that expose viewers to a truth they might otherwise not know. This movie is intended to explore the positive religious message of the Hillsong community and the Hillsong United musical group.

The feature opens up with an introduction to the Church that started it all. Founded in 1983, the Hillsong Church (which actually began under another name) started in Australia with less than 100 congregants. It was co-founded by Brian and Bobbie Houston. The couple wanted to spread the message of Jesus Christ and slowly but surely, their message spread from their city to the international community. Helping spread their Gospel message is Hillsong United, a musical group that began at the Church but that has found supporters — and followers — around the world.

The group spreads the Church’s message about Jesus in venues across the globe where people come together to praise Christ.

In the feature’s first hour, the story explores some of the personal lives of the singers and shows the personal struggles they’ve faced. From having children with health problems to the fact that they experience financial hardships despite their fame (“It’s not worth what we’re getting paid,” member Jad Gillies states), the feature shows the struggles of these band members. Just because they are successful doesn’t mean that they don’t have struggles and the story shows these — revealing that religious faith doesn’t suddenly make a person’s life perfect.

Some religious movies present faith as an end-all, presenting characters who experience divine intervention getting the wonderful lives they’ve always wanted. Hillsong doesn’t sugarcoat that idea. In fact, the members still have great questions about the universe and know that their faith alone doesn’t answer them all. As guitarist Jonathon Douglass states, life often doesn’t make sense but “more stuff doesn’t make sense without Him.”

One of the film’s most compelling stars is singer Taya Smith, a young woman who hesitantly moved to Australia and became an integral part of the group. Her passion for the Gospel and her enthusiasm are hard to forget. “I just love Jesus,” she says, “I love his presence. I love the fact that we get to sing and just worship him.” In one of the movie’s most memorable moments, Smith stands out on stage singing Oceans, one of the group’s most well-known and successful songs.

For fans of the group, this documentary presents a deeper and more personal portrait of them while offering some of the band’s best known songs. For others who are just learning about the group (such as myself), this feature offers a strong introduction to them and their message.

Some of the most memorable moments of the story is when director Michael John Warren(who previously directed the Jay-Z documentary Fade to Black) focuses the camera in on the audience. At some of these concerts, there are thousands of people who are touched by the music, proudly singing the lyrics and worshipping Jesus.  As Taya states, “he gives me purpose. He gives me a greater sense of hope that I’m not by myself.” That hope — and the faith that defines it — is on display throughout Hillsong: Let Hope Rise.

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