Istanbul stray dogs get own starring roles in new film

New documentary “Stray” shows daily life through the eyes of three Istanbul street dogs as they roam the streets, search for food and befriend strangers. © Reuters

By Hanna Rantala

Zeytin likes to walk through the streets of Istanbul at night, Nazar easily befriends strangers, while Kartal lives on a construction site in the bustling Turkish city.

The trio are the focus of new documentary “Stray” which depicts daily life in Istanbul through the eyes of three dogs that roam its streets, searching for food, wandering along the Bosphorus and stumbling upon a women’s rights march.

Inspired by her grief for her childhood pet, Hong Kong-born director Elizabeth Lo said she had wanted to make a film about dogs and was fascinated to learn of a 2004 law in Turkey that protects stray animals from cruelty and requires that they receive good treatment.

“I remember when I … went to Istanbul and saw the way the dogs were living, where it felt like they were communally cared for and they could have these transitory friendships with all the people who were around them, I was really amazed by that,” she told Reuters.”I wanted to document that and capture that for the rest of the world to see, to sort of ask us to reconsider our relationships with other species and in particular dogs.”


Lo found Zeytin, the star of the film, in a tunnel where she saw her running after a group of young Syrian refugees, who feature prominently in the documentary because of their relationship with the strays.

“Those were things that I was really moved by … It felt to me like a real reflection of a primal urge that we have towards dogs and needing each other to survive in our most difficult times,” she said.

Lo wore a special vest to support her camera while following the dogs as they ran around or sometimes lay down beside strangers, seemingly eavesdropping on their conversations.

“These are … conversations about love and women, these are things that I’m personally drawn to, but it was also what Zeytin sort of happened to eavesdrop on,” she said.

Asked what she had learned from making the documentary, filmed between 2017 and 2019, Lo said:

“I had assumed cities with large stray animals are inhumane or not taking care of their animals but I found that it’s actually the exact opposite.”

“It’s cities that don’t have any stray animals that are actually betraying dogs and cats. It’s because it means that you’re getting rid of all of them.”


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