Power couple and multi-award-winning directors Daniel Lir and Bayou Bennett are no strangers to creating an immersive, eye-opening fashion film. They’ve worked on projects with Bella Hadid, Paris Hilton, and Oscar De La Renta, among others, to create artistic and fashion-forward productions. This year, the Dream Team Directors duo were one of six entries selected to show their latest short film, “Time Is Eternal” at the illustrious La Jolla International Fashion Film Festival.
The unique film stars LA-based model and actress Berite Labelle, who pitched, co-wrote, and produced the project. The story is set in present-day LA and centers around an author who vividly imagines a fictional meeting of female trailblazers Cleopatra VIII, the queen of Egypt in early B.C., and Mary Wollstonecraft, a women’s rights activist and mother to Frankenstein author Mary Shelley.
“We wanted to highlight the power of women across history, in a previously male-dominated world,” says Lir.
The film was shot at The Paramour Estate in Silver Lake, L.A., and includes accurate period decor. For period-appropriate yet fashionable costumes, the team worked with Wilford Lenov, who has outfitted Saweetie and Iggy Azalea, among others.
“Every character was about women’s empowerment, and I wanted to push the envelope and bring a fashion element to the characters and a sexier twist,” Lenov says in a press release.
The fashionable and female-empowering film won a whopping four awards at the La Jolla International Fashion Film Festival for Best Actress, Best Set Design, Best Director, and Best Picture. We sat down with the creative directors, Lir and Bennett, to chat about the groundbreaking short film and how it came to be.
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Bayou: The story first started in our modern social media age when fashion influencer and international model, Berite Labelle contacted Daniel and me on the internet.
She sent us a script and storyboard about the meeting of two fascinating historical female figures in heaven. The story was abstract with original, compelling visual ideas that fascinated us.
Daniel: Berite, Bayou and I met and from this seed of an idea about the impact of two women in history Bayou and I developed a fashion film and screenplay with detailed images, references, and inspirations from the fashion of Middle East fashion designer Zuhair Murad, my work with iconic designers Oscar De La Renta and Carolina Herrera, Bayou and Berite's intense love of mermaids and Middle Eastern dance, Egyptian and European History and Francis Ford Coppola's "Dracula" which is one of Bayou and I’s favorite films. Our message was female empowerment and looking at history through a fashion lens.
Bayou: The team was the most important factor because my vision was to create a film so stunningly visual that it would be breathtaking, widening the eyes of viewers in awe and making them forget the tragedies of the last two years.
To inspire our team and make our vision real, Daniel and I created extensive visual lookbooks for hair and make-up, costume, lighting, and dance and then sent them to our amazing team which we hand selected one by one.
Berite has an excellent sense of discovering artists and together we selected stylist Wilford Lenov (Bebe Rexha, Katy Perry, Saweetie) who was perfect for the film because he transformed fashion into sculptural art and was highly innovative in his concepts. We thought it would be very interesting to use Wilford's pop star styling to reimagine Cleopatra and set her apart from the traditional image of Cleopatra [from the movie released] in 1963 with Elizabeth Taylor.
Daniel: Bayou is right, we had to wow audiences in every way. So Wilford [our designer] developed his styling from our references to the luxury of Zuhair Murad and decided conceptually to represent both characters in gold. Cleopatra in a bold, shiny luxurious gold and Mary Wollstonecraft in a soft, delicate white gold with a custom gown co-created by luxury designer Michelle Hébert.
Berite came to us with underwater cinematographer Brett Stanley who is a true underwater artist. Together we selected make-up artist Francie Luxe who transformed Berite into 5 uniquely different women. The Writer, Cleopatra, Mary Wollstonecraft, the Mermaid, and the Mermaid who becomes human.
Bayou: That is the whole genius of the film, actually, that Berite plays five unique characters. This challenge put our filmmaking to the highest test to show dialogue scenes where Cleopatra seamlessly talks to Mary as well as elaborate dance scenes with Berite playing both roles. I studied movies like Flashdance to see how to expertly work with body doubles and we perfected it in the film.
I feel the universe of the production really came together when we found the location of the Paramour which is a work of art. The owner traveled all over Europe and the world collecting luxury paintings, furniture, and art objects- it was naturally the perfect location for the home of the writer's character and the world of the film.
Many of the props seen in the film were from the Paramour and then we added in some key pieces like a luxurious, wonderfully designed cake the women share.
Michael Rizzi, our cinematographer, who has shot for Jennifer Lopez, Hailey Bieber, and Kendall Jenner...together with his team did a stunning job with the cinematography based on our concept to light the film like a Renaissance painting.
Bayou: Berite was fascinated by Cleopatra, her history, her power, her tragedy, and how she helped Caesar expand the Empire.
Again, our goal as directors was to reimagine the character and when Berite first walked onto the set as Cleopatra, the whole crew was in total awe. It was a riveting transformation and window into time.
As an interesting note, Daniel didn't feel we had the "it dress" for Cleopatra two days before the shoot so Wilford went out again and magically found a highly inspiring Elie Madi gown that was on hold for Beyonce, and then we really had it.
Daniel: Berite wanted to focus on Mary because of her deep connection with this very significant writer and philosopher who fought for women's rights and education.
Mary is a lesser known character in history than Cleopatra, with a tragic story but her writing is so meaningful. She gave birth to Mary Shelly who wrote "Frankenstein" but died closely after her birth.
I'm very happy we immortalized Mary in the film and granted importance to her work for women and all that she dedicated in her life for education.
Bayou: Films are about conflict and the fact that Mary sought revolution and social change in a very different way than Cleopatra makes the film dramatic. It's about the power of the sword and beauty, versus the power of the pen and intellect.
Daniel: Yes the visual quality and character of the two women are highly contrasted and fascinating. We took great detail to translate how each uniquely sees the world. Berite came up with a wonderful story twist where the two dance together toward the end of the film and their souls vanish and combine underwater creating the woman of the future- a magical mermaid that represents their union. This new birth is truly the moment that time becomes eternal.
Bayou: We [were] nominated for 10 awards at the prestigious La Jolla International Fashion Film Festival and are premiering the film which is an honor. The Festival Director, Fred Sweet has been so supportive which is empowering for us as filmmakers.
Daniel: Bayou and I’s work at Dream Team Directors is about the intersection of storytelling, entertainment, high-level visuals, and changing the world. We are focused on our collaborations with Oscar nominee and star of "Yellow Jackets" Juliette Lewis, Norman Reedus of "The Walking Dead" and other new projects that all seek to raise awareness and unite around stories that matter like "Time is Eternal".
Photography by: Chris Maltese & Matt Cali Photography