Documentary Directed and Produced by Faculty Member has World Premiere

September 16, 2023
Johan at the premiere of the documentary

‘The Bamboo Dialogues’ is the second movie in a series that aims to draw attention to the versatility and sustainable properties of bamboo.

“The Bamboo Dialogues” also features faculty, staff and alumni from VCUarts Qatar

A documentary film directed and produced by Johan Granberg, Associate Professor in Interior Design at VCUarts Qatar, recently had its world premiere at the National Museum of Qatar (NMoQ).

The film, titled ‘The Bamboo Dialogues’, asks the questions: “What is this material? and Why are we not using more of it in contemporary design, engineering, and architecture?”.

Through a brisk and thought-provoking storyline, the film draws attention to the possibilities and challenges this plant species offers designers and consumers alike.

Granberg talked about the context of the film. “With a growth rate of up to a meter per day, which is a world record for living plants, and structural properties that in certain cases equal those of steel and concrete, bamboo is a versatile design material. It provides an interesting alternative in an ongoing contemporary material/sustainability dialogue.

“In spite of such advantages, the plant has long-standing difficulties in gaining serious momentum and awareness in mainstream design practices. The small-scale nature and the peripheral cultural and geographic locations of the bamboo industry have further made it difficult for bamboo to make its “voice heard,” he said.

‘The Bamboo Dialogues’ is the second movie in a series that aims to draw attention to the versatility and sustainable properties of bamboo. It follows on the heels of the first documentary ‘Bamboo—the Tradition of the Future’, also produced by Granberg in 2019. The film had almost 1.2 million views on YouTube.

The narrative unfolds through the voices of “bamboo whisperers”: engineers, artisans, architects, designers, historians and biologists from five continents, including staff, faculty and alumni from VCUarts Qatar.

Chris Buchakjian, VCUarts Qatar’s former Digital Fabrication Lab and Woodshop Coordinator; Kathryn London-Penny, Executive Director of Strategic Communications;  and Jörg Matthias Determann, Professor and historian in the University’s Department of Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS) are interviewees in the film. VCUarts Qatar LAS Assistant Professor Byrad Yyelland and Innovative Media Studios Coordinator Erika Tsuchiya narrate the script. Yyelland also assisted Granberg in writing the script. VCUarts Qatar alumni Sarah Abdeen, Dana Abuhejleh, Osama Katbi, Khaloud Al Najjar and Yasamin Shaikhi assisted with videography.

Architects Mauricio Cárdenas Laverde (Italy/Colombia), and Kristof Crolla (Hong Kong/Belgium), Jonas Hauptman, a product designer (U.S.) and Neil Thomas (U.K), an engineer, are the Executive Producers of the documentary.

The interior design faculty member said he wanted to create a film that, while based on scientific facts, technical accuracy, and millennia of accumulated knowledge, intentionally carries a sense of immersive beauty and poetry.

“I am an architect and a researcher who has become a filmmaker because I believe in the power of film to convey significant but forgotten or little-spoken-of messages. I want to amplify soft but important voices of culture, society and knowledge, such as the uses of bamboo. But I also wanted a film that straightforwardly explains complex relationships without losing the audience’s interest or becoming too moralistic,” Granberg said.

The documentary was filmed in Sweden, Italy, Indonesia, China, USA, Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea, Costa Rica, the United Kingdom, Taiwan, the Philippines, Uganda, Kenya and Qatar.

The production of the film took more than three years and includes material that had to be partially crowdsourced due to COVID-19-related travel restrictions in 2020 and 2021 – something which, Granberg said, added value to the film’s message.

“The fact that I crowdsourced a significant amount of material for the film impacted my treatment of the overall photographic vision and documentary narrative. A lot of effort had to be put into instructing first-time videographers, finding supporting imagery and digitally enhancing footage taken with cameras and cellphones in odd resolutions and formats. But now I truly believe that the film has gained richer source material than originally planned,” he said.

The premiere was followed by a discussion about the role of bamboo in contemporary design. Mr. Ibrahim M. Jaidah, CEO, Arab Engineering Bureau, Neil Thomas, Engineer, and Founder and Director, Atelier One, London, and Granberg participated in the discussion. The discussion was moderated by Mohammad Suleiman, Chair of Interior Design at VCUarts Qatar.