Directed by Elizabeth Lo, Stray is a Turkish documentary that follows a group of stray dogs as they roam through the streets of Istanbul between 2017 to 2019.
At the beginning, we are informed that it has been deemed illegal to euthanise or capture any stray dog in Istanbul since 2004. We are then introduced to three dogs named Zeytin, Nazar and Kartal, where we follow them as they walk around the busy streets of Istanbul while they go looking for food, a place to sleep or for other dogs to play or fight with. The film is shown from the point of view of the dog with minimal classical music, the sounds from the street, and the conversations by locals which serve as the film’s soundtrack. There are also title cards shown in the film displayed in black and white text with quotes that relate to dogs.
The film focuses on the dogs with their appearing good nature, making you feel sorry for them that they don’t have a home, but still surprising you as they seem to get by. As often as they get scraps of food from some of the locals and that they usually manage to find a place to sleep, you can visibly see the tears in the dogs’ eyes, and you can’t help but long for them to have a better life.
I had some issues with the film. While I understand that Stray‘s concept is to show the viewer what it would be like to be a stray dog on the streets, I also found it incredibly difficult to watch the dogs in threatening and dangerous situations, such as the dogs walking by a busy road and then walking onto incoming traffic, standing in front a tram, or getting into fights with other stray dogs. While no harm is shown to happen to the dogs, it is still stressful to see, and you can’t help but think of any potential long-term effects that could have happened to these animals. As a lover of dogs, myself, I found these moments incredibly hard to watch, let alone enjoy.
Another moment that I didn’t appreciate that was extremely uncomfortable was when one of the dogs were sitting near a a group of people that were yelling at them to go away, verbally taunting the dog saying that it is ‘too dumb’ to understand what they were saying, which I questioned its inclusion in the finished product of the film. Stray is also relatively short running at seventy-one minutes, but it felt way too long, and it may have been better if it had been edited as a short film, rather than being a feature length presentation.
Stray is an intimate example of what it is like to be stray dog living on the street and while it is a daring, bold, unique, and an interesting concept, I can’t help but feel that it could have been executed in a much better way.
Stray will be released in cinemas across Australia from November 25th, 2021.