Director: ELIZABETH LO
Runtime: 72 mins
Synopsis: Through the eyes of its stray dogs wandering the streets of Istanbul, ‘Stray’ explores what it means to live as a being without status or security. As they search for food and shelter, three dogs—Zeytin, Nazar, and Kartal—embark on inconspicuous journeys through Turkish society that allow us an unvarnished portrait of human life. Whether they lead us into decrepit ruins or bustling streets, the gaze of strays act as windows into the overlooked corners of society: women in loveless marriages, protesters without arms, refugees without sanctuary. Through their canine eyes, we are shown a human world ruptured by divisions along class, ethnic, and gender lines.
Director Elizabeth Lo’s brilliant debut documentary feature film is a critical observation of human civilization through the unfamiliar gaze of dogs, which takes us on a sensory voyage into new ways of seeing.
STRAY won the Top Jury Prize at Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival in 2020 and was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award, a Critics Choice Award, and two Cinema Eye Honors after premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2020.
Elizabeth Lo is interested in “finding new, aesthetic ways of exploring the boundaries between species, class, and unequal states of personhood”.
Filmed on the teeming streets of Istanbul between 2017 and 2019, STRAY gives a dogs-eye-view of the world and is both a critical observation of human civilisation through the unfamiliar gaze of Zeytin, Nazar, and the puppy, Kartal, and a sensory voyage into new ways of seeing and existing in a position of extreme marginalisation. It is punctuated with apt aphorisms from ancient Greek philosophers like Diogenes: “Dogs and Philosophers do the greatest good and get the fewest rewards” (368 BC). The film seeks to illuminate Turkey’s societal convulsions through the observations of Zeytin and her companions —both human and non-human. The dogs in Istanbul are allowed to roam around the city freely since the citizens fought to save them from previous extermination policies. As part of these dogs’ lives and living it with them, the viewer sees and experiences all the same sights and sounds. There are snatched conversations overhead about lovers who have been ghosted, domestic violence, politics and the tribulations of young refugees seeking work permits and accommodation. The February 14th Women Reclaiming the Streets March is featured. Packs of dogs chase cars and the three canine stars mix with pedestrians providing comfort and friendship.
A mesmerising film that illuminates a different part of the world, the people and animals that live there, underlining that they share the same basic needs of food, shelter, and friendship.
It is not necessary to be a dog lover to fall in love with STRAY’s canine protagonists as they interact with young Syrian refugees, construction workers and other dogs in parks, on the shores of the Bosphorus, in busy shopping streets near Taksim or within the shadow of Sultanahmet Mosque. When the beautiful, gentle, tan coloured Zeytin howls in accompaniment to the muezzin’s call to prayer, it is an unforgettable image.
In virtual cinemas and on demand
Images courtesy of Dogwoof