It’s a dog life in Elizabeth Lo’s documentary Stray which follows one dog navigating the tough streets of Istanbul.
Instanbul is famous for it stance on stray animals. Hundreds of thousands of cats and dogs roam free on the streets. Protected by local government in terms of shelter, food and healthcare. Essentially co-habiting the city with their human counterparts.
This film makes for a companion piece to 2016’s Kedi which focused on the feline population. Where that film followed several cats, Stray focuses on one specific canine – Zeytin.
By choosing to have the entire film centred around one particular dog, Lo opens herself up to a rather experimental form of documentary filmmaking. Where one would normally go in with an idea on the narrative and structure, here the film is dictated by Zeytin. Where she goes, who she interacts with. Having a stray, untrained dog as your lead, it means that the events that unfold feel unforced and unstaged.
Initially, the film follows Zeytin as she wanders around the streets of Istanbul (not Constantinople). We see the city through her eyes as she encounters people who are welcoming and kind to her presence, and those who are dismissive and disdainful of their home being overrun with animals.
It helps to build a portrait of the city, with Zeytin as the painter. Lo always keeps the camera low to the ground, allowing the audience to see things from the dog’s perspective. They say you can teach an old dog new tricks, but Lo has a few tricks up her sleeve to keep things fresh. Such as attaching a Go Pro camera to Zeytin’s collar to get a bird’s (or should that be dog’s) eye view of a chase sequence.
In the second half of the film, Zeytin’s story becomes interlinked with another group of strays. 4 young Syrian refugees and a puppy who are surviving hand-to-mouth and sleeping rough, just like Zeytin.
Stray allows Lo to use the similarities in their circumstances to allow the audience to see how society treats those of us without a home or family. Certainly may give one paws for thought.
Director: Elizabeth Lo
Runtime: 72 minutes