Conversations with God: Student captures spiritual journey on film

Senior Tate Hipps (left) and Justin Argo near the end of their cross-country journey at Arches National Park in Moab, Utah. Hipps films the landscape just as the sun rises. Hipps spent 18 months working on his documentary, “Koinonia with God,” which took him across the country and to Guatemala.

by Life Editor Melissa Parker

Talking to a best friend is easy. It is just two people having a casual conversation.

“Koinonia with God,” a film project senior Tate Hipps has spent the past 18 months working on, discusses how to get that relationship with God.

“It’s about talking to God,” he said. “How do we get close to God, the creator of the universe?”

People seem to think a close relationship with God takes years, but, he said, that is not true.

“My objective is to allow people to perceive with their eyes what they couldn’t perceive before, begin to hear with their ears what they may not have heard before and understand with their heart,” he said.

Hipps said he began filming in December 2014, but the creative process began in May.

“I started pursuing prayer that summer,” Hipps said. “I realized that prayer isn’t a monologue. It’s a dialog between you and God.”

Hipps enlisted the help of freshman and fellow film major Molly Timothy for the project.

Timothy said she met Hipps through The Well.

The Well is an environment for college students and young professionals within the Shoals region. Their mission is to connect or reconnect lives vertically with God and horizontally with people, according to their Facebook.

“He immediately wanted me to get connected with it and invited me along to help with the filming, just to teach me about it,” she said.

Hipps said he read books on prayer and talked to church elders while researching the essential parts of prayer — faith, humility, thanksgiving, transparency and listening — for the documentary.

For the faith section, Hipps interviewed an Alabama mother of three who has had cancer for four years.

“She has held close to God through all of it,” he said. “She knows God to be a loving father, (even) when she’s dying.”

The transparency section took Hipps to Guatemala in August 2015 to interview a young American couple who traveled there as missionaries shortly after their wedding.

“It’s about how transparent they need to be within themselves and relating that to how transparent we need to be with God,” he said. “Transparency is the one key I found over anything, to how you become intimate with God. That’s how you become intimate with anyone.”

Filming led him to places like Chicago, New York and Portland, he said.

He chose a Hillsong conference in New York that focused on listening as his final piece of research, he said. Hillsong Church is passionate about local churches and is on a mission to see God’s kingdom established across the earth, according to its website.

“God hit me in the back of the head and said, ‘You’re supposed to go to this,’” he said.

Timothy said traveling and interacting with others are typical of Hipps.

“His personality is just always out there,” she said. “He wants to know everyone and love on everybody. I’ve learned a lot from Tate as a person on how to just be there for everyone and love everyone regardless of who they are.”

The Dwelling Place in Florence, where Hipps attends church, produced the film along with Epic Church in Decatur.

UNA Athletic Director Mark Linder, a member of The Dwelling Place, said it was the church’s duty to support Hipps.

“He had a dream of creating a documentary,” he said. “We like to help people accomplish what God has placed on their hearts.”

Linder said the church family cannot wait to see the fulfillment of the project Hipps has worked hard on.

“Tate’s a great young man,” Linder said. “He’s got a passion for video and for God. With those two coming together, I think he’s got a bright future.”

UNA alumni Alex Rubolin, also a member of The Dwelling Place, said Hipps asked him to help with the music for the documentary.

“My involvement was basically writing all original music for the entire film,” he said. “The whole film and the concept of it was definitely something that touched my heart.”

As a songwriter, Rubolin said the most important thing to him is the impact his songs have on people.

“If one of my songs just hits someone and impacts them, that means the world to me,” he said.

Rubolin said Hipps asking him to be a part of the project encouraged him.

“It’s an honor to me,” he said. “It’s really cool to be a part of something like that.”

Assistant Professor of Radio, Television and Film Janet McMullen said people learn from examples, and she thinks the examples in this film are powerful.

“To see somebody walk through a difficult time and see how their faith uplifts them, or see somebody comfortable speaking about what they believe, or to learn how to explain what you believe by watching someone do that can be extremely valuable because we remember it,” she said.

Hipps said he hopes to have the film, which premiered at Highland Baptist Church Dec. 1, on Vimeo by the end of the year.