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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Hillsong: Let Hope Rise is part documentary, part concert film. It focuses on the 11-member Australian Christian band Hillsong United, which has broken sales records and considers their events more worship experiences than musical performances. The "biggest band no one has heard of" is essentially the touring musical worship team of Hillsong church, an evangelical megachurch headquartered in Australia that has satellite churches around the world. There's nothing questionable in the movie in terms of language, sex, or violence, and it offers positive themes of communication, compassion, humility, and teamwork. Unsurprisingly, the movie will have the most appeal for Christian families and/or those who enjoy the band's faith-based music.
What's the story?
HILLSONG: LET HOPE RISE is a documentary concert film about the rise of the Australia-based Hillsong United. It began as a small church youth band and has become a global phenomenon -- at least among millions of evangelical Christians. The 11 Aussie Christian rockers who comprise the group tour around the world, not just performing but also leading their audiences in worship through their catchy (and chart-topping) songs. The film cuts between their big concert at the Los Angels Forum and one-on-one interviews, footage of old concerts, and a discussion of the Sydney-based church's international growth.
Is it any good?
The Australian Christian group's emotional and inspirational music does more to connect audiences of faith with their beliefs than many religiously focused dramas. If you're open to seeing a musical documentary about a Christian band, Hillsong: Let Hope Rise is an undeniably fascinating look at the differences between this band and secular artists. You'd assume they'd be rolling in cash, considering their last album debuted in iTunes' overall top 10 and Billboard's top 5 (and, obviously, no. 1 on Christian/gospel lists), but these artists keep modest homes, and their proceeds go mostly to the mission of their church, not their personal fortunes.
The interviews with the group's individual members vary from in-depth to barely there. While the main performers -- Joel Huston, Jonathon "JD" Douglass, Jadwin "Jad" Gillies, Matt Crocker, and Taya Smith, along with music director/lead album producer Michael Guy Chislett -- get more screen time and share personal stories, audiences might wish there was even more behind-the-scenes info. One noticeable flaw in the film is that director Michael John Warren doesn't interview anyone outside of the extended Hillsong family (no Dove Award officials, Nashville-based Christian music experts, or even Christian music critics) to contextualize the band's impact and reach for those who aren't already familiar with the group. That said, one of the movie's most impactful moments is a montage of one of the group's best-known songs being sung around the world in different languages and styles. Hillsong is more than a Christian band, it's a church-based movement, and the group knows how to make audiences feel that sense of revival. But you almost certainly need to believe to enjoy the experience.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Hillsong: Let Hope Rise compares to other concert documentaries. What do you learn about the band? Why makes this band different from others?
What audience do you think the movie was made for? Do you think non-Christians can still enjoy it? Do you need to be of a particular faith to enjoy religious music?
What do you think the differences are between Hillsong's music -- from their writing process to profit use to performance -- and that of a secular artist/band?
- In theaters: September 16, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: December 20, 2016
- Director: Michael John Warren
- Studio: Pure Flix Entertainment
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Music and sing-along
- Character strengths: Communication, Compassion, Humility, Teamwork
- Run time: 103 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some thematic elements
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