Private Project

What Shall We Do With These Buildings?

“What Shall We Do With These Buildings?” is a documentary-dance film which explores the legacy of Soviet architecture in Kharkiv, Ukraine. The film was shot in September 2021, at a time when the prospect of a full-scale invasion from Russia seemed remote, but the ghost of its former rule remained written in concrete across the cityscape. The film platforms a divisive and open conversation about the city’s Soviet buildings: What should be done with them? Should they be preserved, destroyed, repurposed? What power do they hold over the way people think and interact with their environment?

Interwoven within this patchwork of opinion is another kind of exploration. Dance runs through the film in playful counterpoint, providing another language to articulate the ways in which buildings move bodies.

Since the invasion, the film serves as a time capsule - a snapshot of an independent, hopeful Ukraine trying to find its feet, at a time when that independence has never been more threatened. It captures tensions embodied in social space right before the city descended into war. We hope it can provide an insight into how Kharkiv was before the invasion; how much it has lost and stands to lose. We’ve also now committed to using the film as a fundraising tool for humanitarian efforts on the ground.

  • Jonathan Ben-Shaul
  • Mykola Naboka
  • Jonathan Ben-Shaul
  • Louis Norris
    Sisters; Scene from the Men's Toilets at a Ceilidh
  • Igor Klyuchnik
    Key Cast
    Co-founder of "The Beautiful Flowers Theatre" in Kharkiv
  • Mykola Naboka
    Key Cast
  • Louis Norris
  • Daiana Sheludkevych
  • Louis Norris
  • Jonathan Ben-Shaul
  • Project Title (Original Language):
    Що нам робити з цими будівлями?
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Short, Student, Other
  • Genres:
    Documentary, Dance, Architecture
  • Runtime:
    27 minutes 51 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    January 30, 2022
  • Production Budget:
    500 USD
  • Country of Origin:
  • Country of Filming:
  • Language:
    Russian, Ukrainian
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
    Yes - Ecole Jacques Lecoq
  • Norwegian Short Film Festival
    June 11, 2022
    International Premiere
    Official Selection
  • Royal Institute of British Architects
    United Kingdom
    May 11, 2022
    Fundraising Preview Screening
  • Bartlett Institute, UCL
    United Kingdom
    May 4, 2022
    Fundraising Preview Screening
  • King's College London
    United Kingdom
    May 30, 2022
    Fundraising Preview Screening
  • Arquiteturas Film Festival
    September 27, 2022
    Portuguese Premiere
    Audience Award
  • Lund Architecture Film Festival
    October 14, 2022
    Swedish Premiere
  • PÖFF Shorts (Black Nights Film Festival)
    November 18, 2022
    Baltic Premiere
    Official Selection
  • Lublin Film Festival
    November 18, 2022
    Polish Premiere
    Official Selection
  • Ukrainian Film Festival Berlin
    October 28, 2022
    German Premiere
    Official Selection
Director Biography - Jonathan Ben-Shaul

Jonathan is a movement and theatre director from London. Previously he studied English Literature at Cambridge University, and he graduated from L'École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq this summer. Since then, he has taught at Kharkiv School of Architecture, where he taught movement and dynamic sculpture to first year students and completed a residency in collaboration with the Literature Museum. He works internationally, having toured the east coast of the U.S., and brought theatre pieces to Norway and to the cellar of the National Theatre of Iceland. At the moment, he works with Akimbo Theatre Company and helps run an annual lantern parade in the town of Tonnerre in Burgundy. In addition, he is very passionate about therapeutic dance practises and previously spent a year with East London Dance working as an assistant movement therapist for people with disabilities.

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Director Statement

This film was the result of a two-month residency supported by Kharkiv Literary Museum back in September 2021. The focus of my residency was an investigation into the living relationship that we have to our built environment. As the former capital of Soviet Ukraine, I felt this would have a particular resonance in Kharkiv, whose built environment is composed of the patrimony of this defunct regime.

Soviet modernist architecture in the city seemed to stimulate a broad range of responses, from nationalism, soviet nostalgia, concerns over heritage, and conflicting desires for conservation and ‘Ukrainization’. In addition to this research, I embarked on another mode of analysis through movement. This began with a series of workshops that I ran at the Kharkiv School of Architecture teaching movement and sculpture to first year Ukrainian architects. I decided to include dance as a playful counterpoint to the interviews. A way of responding to the aesthetics of this architecture with and through the body.

When we made the film we could never have imagined that the situation would turn out the way it has. Just six months after we left, Russia launched a full scale invasion of Ukraine. Kharkiv, which lies 30km from the Russian border was, and continues to be, one of the worst hit cities. Fortunately everyone who was involved in the film is safe, though most have had to leave the city.

Our first priority has been to use the film in whatever way we can to help the situation on the ground. When Russia invaded, we decided to dedicate proceeds we make from the film to humanitarian aid. Igor Klyuchnik (who dances in the film) has set up a group of volunteers who help evacuate people and bring humanitarian aid to the people of Kharkiv (where the film was shot). Please consider donating to them by following the link below:

The invasion also completely changed the way that you watch the film. We suddenly realised that we had captured quite a unique moment in time. After the revolution in 2014, the whole of Ukraine, but Kharkiv in particular, had been going through a major cultural revival. People in the city were not only rediscovering their magnificent architectural and literary legacy but also refashioning a new kind of Ukrainian identity. This came to an abrupt halt when Russia invaded in February of 2022. The city is now subjected to merciless Russian shelling with lots of its architecture damaged.

Watching the images of Kharkiv now on the news, it makes me sad that people only know about this city as a victim of Russian aggression. As shelled out, twisted metal and destroyed apartment blocks. That is not a Kharkiv I recognise. Spending two months there back in September 2021, I was fortunate to get a small glimpse into a vibrant, colourful and beautiful city. The film shows Kharkiv as it was flourishing, just before its internal tensions broke out into war. It captures the architecture of a city which is being destroyed.

Oleg Drozdov talks very beautifully at the end of the film about the need for reconstruction being intimately connected to finding a new culture for the next generation. I look forward to the day when these words find a new meaning as we rebuild an independent Ukraine.