When a person heads into a movie theater, there are a number of things they typically expect to find—the smell of popcorn wafting in the lobby, somewhat comfortable seats, and a decent film. In the case of PureFlix’s latest film Hillsong: Let Hope Rise, the viewer can expect something additional–a concert they’re asked to participate in. Part documentary, part worship experience, this is a film that needs to be experienced in person in order to appreciate its full effect.
Let Hope Rise centers around Hillsong United, “the biggest band you’ve never heard of,” according to band member Jad Gilles. The band’s social media stats serve to spell this out, with over five million Facebook likes and more than one million Twitter followers. Based out of Sydney Australia, their shows sell out worldwide. But why?
According to singer Taya Smith, they’re teaching people how to worship God. At the same time, they’re learning to do the same. Part of Let Hope Rise is a somewhat standard documentary chronicling the band’s early—and often hilarious—endeavors, leading up to the present day. We get to see the lives of the singers as they work together composing songs, recording tracks, and dealing with struggles such as limited time with family due to touring (no mansions here—they live in regular houses and apartments), past familial issues, and the pressures of making sure their songs point people to the Lord while keeping them lyrically relevant. In fact, as the clock ticks down to a concert performance at the Forum in Los Angeles, they’re feverishly trying to finish songs—and the crowd hears a composition completed less than an hour before showtime.
Director Michael John Warren’s documentary is quite good on its own merits, but what sets Let Hope Rise apart is the mini-concert sprinkled throughout the film. A quick notice appears before the start of the movie stating, “The filmmakers welcome your participation.” Filmed in widescreen HD, the viewer gets thrown into the very same concert the band was preparing for in the documentary. The words of the songs are on the screen (with no bouncing ball, thankfully!), so there’s no reason to sing along. A number of United’s songs are presented, including the very popular “Oceans,” giving Smith an opportunity to show off her impressive vocal skills. At the screening I attended, the crowd was getting into the music, singing up a storm, and a few raised their hands. Some I talked to afterward said they even wanted to stand up—and felt bad they didn’t.
It’s a unique take on the concert experience. The goal was to capture the essence of what it would be to actually be at the Forum in person, and it works pretty well. In fact, the film is a bit too heavy on the documentary portion, since most people are going to come for the music. It’s not overly preachy, but you know from the outset of the film who the focus is on. The singers, including lead Joel Houston, don’t want it on themselves, but Jesus.
Let Hope Rise is the type of film word of mouth will benefit, and it’s a unique idea that could be potentially viable for other musical acts—both Christian and secular. So expect to do some singing, some watching, and perhaps some standing as the auditorium becomes an extension of the concert itself. In fact, the movie theater may never be the same again. Rise up . . . and enjoy!