It was September of 2019 when Haifaa Al Mansour's simple yet powerful story of a Saudi woman running in the local political elections made its debut in Venice. Originally slated for worldwide release in 2020, and after screening at part of the Toronto International Film Festival and in Zurich, London, Busan and Sundance, the film was then released in a few European countries in the Spring of 2020, before all movie houses were shut down due to the pandemic.
The UK release of Al Mansour's film was in virtual cinemas and on-demand, while in the summer and fall of 2020 The Perfect Candidate took off for some festival screenings again, in New Zealand, Florida, Odessa and Australia.
But the US release of the film will actually involve physical screenings and it was well worth the way, as the film opens on Friday, the 14th of May, in New York City and Los Angeles -- before going wider in the weeks to come.
MIME wanted to find out from artist Ross Charters, who designed the US poster and Music Box Films (the American distributors of the film) what the inspiration was behind the latest version, so beautifully coloured and styled but also what it was like to finally release the film to US audiences after such a long wait.
Austin Vitt, Director of Creative and Production at Music Box Films told us about the decision to hold back the film until now: "I hope this film will find its deserved audience as well, and that our decision to hold back the release until theaters reopened will find viewers with a renewed appetite for politically optimistic stories. One of the things I admire most about the film is how clear-eyed it is about the continued frustrations and roadblocks of progress while also championing how heroic everyday functional work can be. I think we need more art like this that celebrates these types of victories within a recognizable reality."
Vitt also disclosed their choice of artist, to fulfill a vision which seems like a inspired throwback to the 2008 Barack Obama campaign "Hope" poster by American artist Shepard Fairey. "Ross is one of our regular, trusted designers and he does a good job adding life and power to elemental images, including with abstract and illustrated concepts, so I thought he would be a good choice for a poster we planned to build around a single hero image of Maryam." He continued that, "in this case we started with the Modern Films poster for the UK, which had taken the original photograph of Maryam and added doctor scrubs and a stethoscope to highlight her professional identity. That poster was designed in the UK quad format, though, and utilized a quadtych montage showing Maryam in four different environments, which wasn't going to naturally translate to the portrait format needed for our US poster."
Charters told us about his creative process, "in this particular project we basically were mimicking an existing image that was created for the British release, and combined that with the contemporary political poster style made so popular by Shepard Fairey -- hopefully creating a bold and engaging image."
The final product was striking and, in our opinion, the best of the worldwide posters made. "We preferred a singular image of Maryam," Vitt elaborated further on the process to get to the final product, "so we reduced the focus to the central doctor image and built in a naturalistic background showing the hospital in the background and a campaign poster on the wall to reflect the political component inherent in the title. This version of the poster was palatable but missing the quietly revolutionary lifeblood of Maryam's journey." Which finally led them down a different creative path -- and the winning poster.
"We made the decision to merge the naturalistic composition we had with an earlier idea, which was for the film's art to take the form of a campaign poster. Ross found some inspiration in a bolder, propaganda-referential style in the realm of Shepard Fairey's work and illustrated the poster in its current form with bright reds, oranges, and yellows, and heavy black strokes." Said Vitt, continuing, "we think this approach not only makes an immediate and striking visual impression, but also succeeds in expressing both the external narrative elements of our characters (the hospital and campaign) and the internal (the search for radical change and hope for the future)."
The Perfect Candidate opens on the 14th May, 2021 in LA and NYC, with more cities to come.