Stray: #LFF20 review

Year: 2020
Duration: 73 minutes
Director: Elizabeth Lo

By Caz Armstrong

As an animal lover I was nervous about watching this film. It documents life in Istanbul through the eyes of stray dogs, so had the potential to be distressing. But I needn’t have worried. This film has a lot of heart, love and compassion for both our furry friends and the people they encounter.

Filmmaker Elizabeth Lo took on directing, producing, filming and editing in a labour of love which spanned a number of years. Her camera work turns what could have been intimidating stray animals into fully developed characters of their own.  She expertly captures the dogs’ expressions and body language, giving them rich personalities.

By following Zeytin, Nazar, Kartal and their doggy friends we get an insight into their world of play time, hunting for scraps, hanging out with various humans and napping. There’s a lot of fun to be had frolicking on the beach and in the park but it’s also a tough existence.

The lives of the humans they come across are not dissimilar and there’s a certain kinship between them. They’re all on the outskirts, living alongside the rest of society but not a part of it. The homeless are searching for warmth, community and food. They’re all just getting by.

“Stray” is a heart-warming showcase of compassion between human and animals on the margins.”

Via snippets of conversations overheard the rest of mainstream society is relegated to backdrop status. The political situation as glimpsed in passing has little to no impact on people and animals who are disenfranchised from it. But there is a parallel when a women’s reclaim the streets style march passes through. Women demonstrate for their rights to be safe in their own streets at night while the men can do nothing but occupy them, and the dogs call it home. The same physical space takes on such different meanings for those who inhabit it at different times and for different reasons.

Despite the difficulties of both the humans and animals shown there is a deep compassion between them. Humans will feed the dogs where they can, sharing what they have even if it’s just scraps. The dogs both give and receive comfort and protection for the disenfranchised.

“Stray” is a heart-warming showcase of compassion between human and animals on the margins. The unique dog’s-eye perspective puts us in the position of transient observer to human society which brings what we see into even sharper focus.

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