It was clear from the opening scenes of the film Let Hope Rise, we were not about to see diamond encrusted bodysuits, beefed up minders or hyperventilating 13-year-olds. Nor would we see colossal tantrums or over-the-top requests for all the red M and M’s to be removed from the candy bowls. What was evident from the get-go is that members of Hillsong United work really hard, take their role very seriously and are largely unaffected by their achievements. Since they launched as a youth band in 1998, Hillsong United have sold in excess of 20 million albums and their songs have been sung in 90 languages. In the movie we get a glimpse of their reach through a montage of You-tube clips featuring devotees from African choirs to Elvis lookalikes to impromptu performances – all crooning the Hillsong United classic, “Mighty to Save.”
In 2014, Hillsong United were nominated for favourite artist in the contemporary inspirational category at the American Music Awards and in that same year, scored top Christian artist at the Billboard awards. Together with Hillsong Music, they have clocked up 11 billboard awards, have debuted at number 1 on the iTunes overall album chart and have played in some of the world’s most iconic venues. By all accounts the 11 members are rock stars – but that’s not how they want to be known. Let Hope Rise wasn’t a rockumentary, but rather “a theatrical worship experience.”
It was all about engagement and judging by the response from the guy in the seat next to mine, that’s exactly how the audience responded. While the mega-watt lights, packed stadiums, surround sound systems, millions of social media followers, top billing on secular and Christian billboards, and international tours have all become staples of Hillsong United’s journey, the band have retained a level of self-effacement and inclusiveness that continues to endear them to their loyal fans and a legion of newbies now flocking to movie theatres in the USA and Australia. Along with Hillsong United’s high-energy anthems and moving ballads, Let Hope Rise includes in-depth interviews and reveals rare, behind the scenes footage: clips of first-snow encounters and double-dares on early band tours, current-day married-with-kids mealtimes and some especially vulnerable moments. Singer-songwriter Matt Crocker, shared how the loss of his teenage sister when he was only ten profoundly informed his musical journey, and United musician and producer Michael Chislett, spoke openly about how he and his wife endured harrowing months in and out of hospital when their newborn baby was diagnosed with a life-threatening heart condition.
Long-time singer-songwriter and band front man, Joel Houston, reflecting on the evolution of the band’s music and outreach, articulated the feeling that perhaps God is most evident in our brokenness. From the slums of Manila to the dizzying heights of their performance at the Forum in LA, that brokenness, vulnerability and frailty was a recurring theme. Even talented songstress, Taya Smith who has been a part of the band for four years, when quizzed about feedback she’d received on her powerful performance of the number one hit “Oceans,” deflected any praise by admitting the spectacular high note she belts out in the bridge (in her chest voice, no less) seemed to unlock something in others. She later acknowledged her own humanity. “Who am I to lead these people,” she confessed welling up with tears. “ I’m just a country girl!”
Director Michael John Warren (who is also the brainchild behind the Jay Z and Nicki Minaj documentaries) gushed about the band at the Red Carpet event in Los Angeles: “They are probably the nicest people you’re ever going to meet.” Producer Johnathon Bock had similar sentiments. “Hillsong are so big, yet so kind and so humble – what you saw in the movie is authentically who they are.” In a final group prayer before they were about to go up on stage and play to 15,000 people in LA, long-haired frontman JD uttered a prayer that pretty much summed up Hillsong United’s attitude towards their ongoing success: “May the people be talking about how great you [God] are,” which fits perfectly with the movie’s tagline: It’s all about Him. Let Hope Rise is playing in cinemas across Australia. For locations and screening times visit: http://movietimes.com.au
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