DIRECTED BY: Elizabeth Lo
Since 1909, Turkish authorities have tried to annihilate stray dogs, leading to mass killings of Istanbul’s street dogs for the last century. However, after widespread protests against the killings, Turkey has transformed into one of the only countries where it is now illegal to euthanise or hold captive a stray dog. This documentary gives the viewer a glimpse of what life is like for a stray dog on the streets of Istanbul, primarily strays Zeytin, Nazar and Kartal.
After directing several documentary shorts, Elizabeth Lo marks her directorial feature debut with the documentary Stray, a glimpse of life through the lens of a stray dog on the streets of Istanbul, mainly through three dogs – Zeytin, Nazar and Kartal, and how they survive day by day.
The documentary takes the approach of no narration or creating a narrative arc, instead Lo gives us ambience in how we follow Zeytin going from street to street, enriching lives, interrupting traffic, playing with other strays like Nazar, and more serious altercations with other strays at night. There’s a certain beauty to this style of filmmaking, and it also helps if you like dogs and seeing how the stigma of certain cultures warning you about stray dogs being ‘wild’ as a bad term, especially when you see how certain residents of Istanbul treat them, Zeytin in particular. We also see Zeytin and a number of other strays interact with a couple of teenagers, who we come to learn are Syrian refugees and homeless, and we see this parallel of how these youngsters are treated worse than the strays by the residents as lack of assistance from the Government leaves them struggling to find food and shelter, leading to sniffing glue and sleeping rough, sometimes with Zeytin and company in order to maintain any sense of purpose and affection to get through their current day to day.
Considering that Elizabeth Lo shot for one-hundred-and-sixty days over the course of three years on this project, the documentary is wonderfully edited together to make it all have a steady, continuous flow and I’m keen to know the behind-the-scenes exploration of how a sequence that definitely looks like it involves a GoPro attached onto Zeytin came to be. Elizabeth Lo also provides great direction in how she frames the camera from low angles for the viewer to see the world through the point-of-view of Zeytin, Nazar and Kartal, with my favourite shot being Zeytin lying down at the edge of a busy, main road, almost at ease in trusting that none of the cars will hit her.
More will be said about this being more of a companion piece rather than compare this to Ceyda Torun’s Kedi, Elizabeth Lo gives us an interesting glimpse into the life of stray dogs on the streets of Istanbul that is an engaging watch not doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. A must for all dog lovers to see.