Photo: ‘Stray’ / Magnolia Pictures
The one hour documentary ‘Wander’ begins with an interesting fact: Turkey is one of the only countries where it is a crime to euthanize or to keep stray dogs in captivity. The reform came after Turkish authorities brutally attempted to get rid of the stray dog population over the past century, sparking possible protests and demands for change. Nowadays, the result is a unique stray-welcoming society, which is explored in the film through the perspective of a stray dog named Zeytin.
In the film, we follow Zeytin as he spends his day in Istanbul, Turkey, through moments of adventure, tranquility and curiosity. Ultimately, the film functions as an encouraging look at those who live on the fringes of society and exist in its public spaces. It’s humbling and warm, but heartbreaking at the same time – a great documentary rich in empathy and spirit. And – it’s a subtle call to action. As a multi-talented director, producer, screenwriter, editor and DP Elizabeth lo said: “I really want the movie to ask why we don’t allow dogs to roam freely when they can survive peacefully among us. Why don’t we tolerate dogs on our streets? “
Ultimately, the premium The documentary excels as a sympathetic and touching piece and makes a great watch for any dog lover or anyone just looking for a fresh, unconventional movie to watch.
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“ Stray ” – An Abandonment of the Traditional Narrative
The film mainly follows a stray dog named Zeytin as he weaves his way through the streets of Istanbul. It’s pretty cyclical, going from day to night and season to season, with each scene revealing a bit more of Zeytin’s life and the society he lives in. Of course, “Stray” is not a fictional and narrative film and Zeytin is not an actor but a real stray dog. According to reports, the filmmakers had to track Zeytin for two years using collared GPS trackers that they would attach to him every night, in order to capture their footage.
According to director Lo, that meant a complete abandonment of classic filmmaking techniques. Even though she had a clear intention and specific themes that she wanted to explore, she had to rely on Zeytin to lead the way. Fortunately, Zeytin ended up being a regular in the city, frequenting the same hangouts and interacting with specific groups of people who love and adore him. Therefore, there was a solid understanding of Zeytin place in society, as well as his relationships and personality.
‘Stray’ is also unconventional in that he tries to put you in Zeytin’s point of view himself. Much of the film is shot from his size and gait – placing the audience directly in his place. It pays off incredibly, creating a immersive experience where you almost feel like a stray dog. As Zeytin walks the streets, he hears a myriad of sounds: conversations coming and going, car horns, street music, etc. movement and the exploration really sets “Stray” apart from traditional documentaries and viewpoints. In addition, the film is quite low-key in its exploration of its perspective and themes; he doesn’t try to force a narrative, he just follows Zeytin throughout his life.
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What it means to live on the margins of society
“Stray” presents a history of public spaces within society and who inhabit them. For example, we see Zeytin interacting with a group of homeless Syrian immigrants, with whom he befriended. Zeytin follows them as they are evicted from the construction buildings they live in, and they return support by comforting him after a fight with another stray. We also see Zeytin weaving through a demonstration for women’s rights one evening. Eventually, the film begins to make a connection between stray dogs and these groups of people, who are also vulnerable and not in positions of power. As the film shows, these groups often support each other, finding commonalities in their struggle and adversity. In fact, they provide each other with company as they navigate their way through the streets.
The film also shows what can happen when these individuals are supported by their company. Because their protection under the law has resulted in a supportive atmosphere, stray dogs are regularly fed and petted by spectators and citizens. They may not have a “home”, but in a way they have been adopted by the city. In fact, an interesting parallel made by the film is that dogs may even have more rights than the Syrian immigrants in the film – who are not allowed to live on the streets like dogs. This is not the primary issue explored in the film, but “Stray” is simply a multifaceted documentary through which these subtle parallels can be drawn.
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Lo describes it well, saying that the film highlights “many parallels of what it means to prosper on the fringes of society”, and that she thinks that “the vision of life is more precise on the periphery, far from the centers of power”. Maybe that’s why the movie is so genuine and honest. A dog can neither act nor convince. He can just walk through his life and show us what he’s observing.
What dogs can teach us
Besides social and moral lessons, “Stray” simply reminds us that dogs are lovable and endearing creatures. Like any pet owner knows, dogs are imbued with a sense of loyalty and unconditional love not necessarily found in their human counterparts. Zeytin himself is an extremely easy-to-love protagonist. He is playful and extrovert. He is sure of himself and confident – not disturbed by the humans around him. He has incredibly expressive eyes, highlighted throughout the film, where you feel like you almost see what he’s feeling – whether it’s his benefits of curiosity, fatigue, or alertness. It provides companionship to those in need, whether they are people or other stray dogs who are also trying to survive.
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“ Stray ” also reminds us to be humble and appreciate the life we have. As Zeytin roams the city, we hear people’s conversations in the backgrounds – from private marriage disputes to political debates. From a dog’s perspective, however, they all seem trivial. Zeytin doesn’t need to argue over things – he just needs to worry about food and sleep. He leads a very restful life, which is quite enviable. Obviously, even though humans have responsibilities that they must fulfill, it is a good recall not to get immersed in all of this and to appreciate the little things in life.
The film begins with an epithet that sums it up well: “Human beings live artificially and hypocritically and would do well to study the dog” – Diogenes of Sinope 360 BC.
“Stray” is now available in theaters and all streaming platforms.
DISCARD: Zeytin the dog
CREW: Director / Editor / DP / Writer: Elizabeth Lo, Producers: Shane Boris, Elizabeth Lo, Co-Producers: Ceylan Carhoglu, Ina Fichman, Zeynep Köprülü
By Lana Nguyen
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