Back in March, 2015, WorshipFuel published an article “Will Hope Rise?” Now, a year-and-a-half (and many twists and turns) later, we can finally answer a resounding “Yes!” Here is the story of the Hillsong movie’s remarkable odyssey.
The initial release date for Hillsong – Let Hope Rise was April 1, 2015. Draw your own conclusions on that particular detail.
But we really wanted to understand the full story of the incredible odyssey of the Hillsong Movie, now finally scheduled for wide release in the United States on September 16, 2016. So we talked to Jonathan Bock, President/CEO of Grace Hill Media and Producer of the movie itself.
Like any good adventure, it had a compelling beginning. Jonathan Bock attended the 2014 Hillsong Conference in Sydney, Australia, and in his own words, he “fell in love with the heart of the church.”
“It was amazing,” said Jonathan.
The five-day event drew over 30,000 people a day, but what was truly remarkable was the team of over 4,000 volunteers from the church itself. Knowing how difficult it can be to enlist volunteers, I was deeply impressed with their commitment to sharing Jesus.
At dinner with Brian and Bobbie Houston, senior pastors and founders of Hillsong, Jonathan remarked, “You know, someone really should make a movie about Hillsong.”
“Who would want to see a movie about us?” Brian responded.
That question was answered quickly. In just two weeks, 4 different offers came in to fund the project, raising all the dollars needed for production. Warner Bros. was initially chosen to release the movie, but it soon became clear that Warner was not the right fit. Distribution rights were transferred to Relativity Media, and the movie was rescheduled for a May 29, 2015 release.
In early May, another problem surfaced. In Jonathan’s words, “The fountain of money needed for marketing the movie ran dry.” Relativity Media filed for bankruptcy, and the rights to Hillsong – Let Hope Rise along with a number of other films in production at the time got held up in Relativity’s bankruptcy litigation. “We had to fight to get the rights back. In the end, Hillsong – Let Hope Rise, was one of only two films to emerge from the bankruptcy mess.”
In January 2016, a new round of offers came in to distribute the movie, and this time PureFlix, a Christian movie distributor, was chosen. PureFlix has scheduled a September 16 release in 800-1000 theaters across the country, with more to be added in the days following.
Response from the early screenings has been phenomenal. “That’s the best part, and it actually makes all the frustration worth it,” said Jonathan. “In our planning meetings, we actually raised the question, ‘What if people start singing along? What if they start raising their hands, and actual worship breaks out?’ Well, we watched it happen—in screening after screening. People worshipped. I mean, they really worshipped. I believe we just stumbled on to a whole new movie genre. We’re calling it a theatrical worship experience, because that’s what’s actually happening.”
How did the Hillsong people handle all the delays, complications and frustrations of the journey? “That’s perhaps the most gratifying part of this story,” said Jonathan. “There were many times when it would’ve been so easy for Hillsong to bail. They didn’t. They stood by us. They were incredibly patient and understanding, and that just speaks to the kind of people they are.”
Some viewers may wonder, in the early part of the movie as the history of Hillsong unfolds, why was there no mention of Darlene Zschech?
As we made the movie, we came to realize just how huge Hillsong is,” said Jonathan. Over 30 years of music. Campuses on five continents. We shot over 300 hours of footage, but we can’t make a 300-hour movie. We had to focus. So we decided the best way to tell the story was through the lens of Hillsong United.
Since I have seen an advance screening of the movie, I told Jonathan that I came away extremely impressed. “What do you remember most about it?” He asked.
I mentioned a particular quote from Joel Houston that really stuck with me. An interviewer asked, “What do you fear most?”
“Being underwhelming,” Joel answered.
Jonathan was quick to fill in some context. “Joel bleeds for these songs,” said Jonathan. “He feels the weight of the responsibility. Millions of people use these songs to grow in their relationship with God. That’s a heavy burden to bear. He feels it.”
Reflecting further, Jonathan mentioned, “At one of the lowest points of the journey, I received a text from Joel. It said, ‘There’s no glory without some suffering.’”
So on September 16, 2016, if you’re one of the opening day movie-goers who will enjoy the dynamic and powerful story and theatrical worship experience in full Dolby 5.1 surround sound, I’d encourage you to pause for a moment and thank God for His strength and guidance in the making and distributing of Hillsong – Let Hope Rise. And pray that He uses it to open new doors to His Kingdom. Because the journey of the movie itself has been truly miraculous.