Teresa Tyler

'Stray' Elizabeth Lo's film.

Some of the team at the DoGenius were lucky enough to be invited to a preview screening of Elizabeth Lo’s new film ‘Stray’. This was her first filmmaking venture and was inspired by the sad loss of her own dog.   ‘Stray’ is a fascinating peek into the world of a group of street dogs in Istanbul, Turkey, where although sometimes disliked, street dogs are protected by law from euthanasia. Instead the dogs live by a government trap, neuter and return policy and those who have been neutered carry the ear tag to prove it. Despite this element of control, these dogs are pretty much free to roam the city and love their lives as they choose.
Scenes were filmed through the eyes of the dogs as much as possible, with little anthropomorphic interpretation. The sounds that accompanied the film were the usual hustle and bustle of city life with snippets of conversations, bird song, traffic noise and sirens, as you would expect. The story focussed on three dogs; Zeytin, Nazar and a pup called Kartal. Zeytin is the main lead and her handsomely statuesque figure is predominant throughout. Turkey has had a love hate relationship with their street dogs over the years and Zeytin’s presence at an International Women’s Day march seemed symbolic of resistance and rights. As Lo says herself, the dogs are: “emblem[s] of resistance—living manifestations of compassion in the face of intolerance.”

the dogs: “traverse across class, ethnic and 
gender lines in a way only stray dogs can.”   

Running parallel to the dogs’ lives was the story of three homeless refugees whose lives interacted periodically with the dogs. The dogs were obviously familiar with them and would come when they called them, shared their sleeping spots in derelict building, providing a shared warmth and sense of protection. Even with this genuine connection the dogs would come and go as they pleased and their relationship with these young men did not define them but demonstrated their agency and choice to interact when it suited them too.  
Despite a few heart in your mouth moments, the dogs traverse the city and busy roads with an obvious street-smart attitude. Public are generally appreciative of their presence and one man is shown encouraging his toddler to feed Zeytin, even with her large size. He reassures his child that she will not hurt her and the trust on both human and dog sides was apparent.   Turkey was portrayed as having an ability to care for it’s street dogs responsibly and demonstrated some lessons that other countries could learn from. The dogs were offered food, there were feeding and watering points and at no point during the film were any dogs harmed.  
Overall the film showed the stark difference between street dog life and companion dog lives. Their ability to choose how they lived their lives with freedom and not defined or controlled by humans was refreshing and a reminder of how captive our pet dogs are.  
The final scene was particularly moving and showed a solitary Zeytin, listening to the sound of the call to prayer from a nearby mosque. The close up of her tilting her head from side to side as she listened to the azan, and then arching her neck back and howling in unison with the song, again and again was soulful and poignant.  
This is an exceptional film that has skilfully observed life of street dogs through their own eyes, showing how as Lo says the dogs: “traverse across class, ethnic and gender lines in a way only stray dogs can.”     
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