Never work with children and animals is an oft-cited quote when it comes to working in cinema, a quote that writer and director Elizabeth Lo elects to ignore.
Lo fully embraces the latter with a portrait of stray dogs in Turkey, a country which has had a large population of said animals since the 1900’s when they began trying to eliminate them.
This led to an outcry and so now it is illegal to hold or kill a stray dog in Turkey, leading to a large number of them roaming the cities and it is one of these, Zeytin, that we follow in Stray.
Lo follows Zeytin as the dog roams Istanbul, sniffing, eating, sleeping and generally being a dog. We see these things from a dog’s point of view, with many shots of Zeytin’s butthole thrown in for free.
Some people feed these stray dogs, some pet them, leave water out for them, whilst others won’t touch them. Largely though, the people of the country embrace them, going out of their way to help, as seen by a refuge collector who ensure two stray dogs share a couple of bones when one wants them both to itself.
The cities bend to the dogs, not the other way around. Throngs of shoppers walk around the animals, stepping over them, even traffic is forced around them as the dogs decide they will lay wherever they wish.
Some Syrian refugees take the dogs under their wings, taking them with them when they go to a nearby construction site. Tellingly they boys are moved on from the site, the dogs are left alone.
Whilst filming in Turkey at this time there were many protests occurring, one such rally was for women’s rights, set-off against two dogs selecting that exact moment, and that exact protest, to begin humping in the streets.
Lo films the whole thing from just above the dog’s point of view with the camera on a gimbal so we’re not jumping around all the time.
It’s a lovely documentary, one that, in my humble opinion, shows a stark contrast between how animals in need are treated compared to humans in need. I know this isn’t how the director intended the film to be viewed, but it’s what came across for me.
The young boys we see are moved along, even arrested at the end, whereas the dogs are left to be, tagged by the authorities but otherwise left to their own devices and helped by the majority of the people they come across.
However you elect to view the film, it works and is a lovely watch.