Documentary Review: ‘Stray’

Review by James Lindorf

Nothing says passion project like one person producing, directing, filming, and editing a single movie. For Elizabeth Lo, that passion project is “Stray,” which follows three stray dogs as they embark on various journeys around Turkey. Zeytin, fiercely independent, embarks on adventures through the city at night, sometimes alone, with a temporary pack and occasionally with people. Nazar is nurturing, protective and makes quick friends with the humans around her. Finally, Kartal, a shy puppy living on a construction site’s outskirts, finds companions in the security guards who care for her. “Stray” is a critical observation of the human world from the point of view of dogs. Stray will be able through VOD on March 5th.

Amid the frolicking, mating, fighting, and the never-ending search for food and belly rubs, Lo uses the dogs to shine a light on the less fortunate members of Turkish society. “Stray” was filmed from 2017-2019, and it wouldn’t be shocking if she had hundreds of hours of footage to choose from when crafting her perfect tail. It is hard to tell that there is a passing of time. I would have believed it was filmed over one Turkish summer. Lo carved that mountain of footage down into a runtime of 72 minutes, which is a bit odd. It is very brief for a feature-length movie, but it also feels incredibly long at the same time for me. It is a long time to watch dogs wander around the city and always worry about their safety. I anticipated an accident or a run-in with an evil human for at least 65 of those minutes.

The dogs are adorable, but the real meat of the movie is in the human moments Lo brings into the film. Those moments include highlighting a protest and a discussion about how a woman wasn’t given to a man by her family. Not because she isn’t theirs’ to give away but because he wasn’t financially stable enough. Seeing homeless people thankful to be living in a building that looks like it was bombed while being terrified that the city plans to tear it down in two years. The dogs and humans have much in common when it comes to fighting for survival. The dogs have a leg up because the law forbids killing or imprisoning them, and most people like or at least indifferent to dogs. Unfortunately, those same sentiments are not passed on to immigrants and the poor.

“Stray” is secretly a study in human compassion vs. indifference disguised as an episode of “Too Cute.” People can easily ignore the plight of those among us, treating them as if they are not worth our consideration and help. Then, there are the oppressed people who share their homes, meager possessions, and food with the stray dogs. “Stray” may have functioned better as a thirty-minute short. Still, when that is the only complaint, you can understand why Lo has won multiple film festival awards for her previous works, and “Stray.”

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