Hot Docs 2020’s Best International Feature Documentary winner offers a dog’s-eye view of life in Istanbul.
Over 100,000 stray dogs roam freely around Istanbul, protected by a ‘no kill, no capture’ law. Three such dogs – loner Zeytin, friendly Nazar and timid Kartal – live on the city’s streets, interacting with one another and with a group of Syrian refugees who live in the shadows, neglected and forgotten. Writer/director Elizabeth Lo’s film, in a major technical feat, adopts a canine gaze: her camera sits low, at the animals’ height, and their encounters around town provide illumination for some of the city’s human population who themselves remain invisible.
Immersed in their day-to-day existence, we see how the dogs depend on the kindness of strangers and how integral these interactions are to the city’s soul. Much like the cat-focused Kedi (MIFF 2016) before it, Stray documents Istanbul’s humans, too; while following the animals, Lo (who also serves as cinematographer and editor) listens in on conversations across politics and class strata. What emerges is a playful and compassionate cine-essay on the beauty of dogs and the necessity of care and connection for all.
“Lo’s sharp-eyed study of Istanbul strays is both the ultimate love letter to dogs and a multifaceted moral inquiry into humanity … Virtuosic.” – Variety