Stories are all around us, though many go unnoticed and untold. The people and places we interact with are each full of their own unique features, triumphs, and tragedies.
Documentary filmmakers have the satisfying, though often difficult, job of bringing these worlds to life for us. By focusing their lens on an area of life we take for granted, they’re often able to uncover the most amazing stories.
For director Elizabeth Lo, inspirational stories were found in an unlikely place: A trio of stray dogs in Turkey.
The country has a unique approach to stray dogs, often summarized as “no kill, no capture.” The strays in the city of Istanbul are estimated at 100,000 in number, which gave Lo and her team the opportunity to carefully track their lives.
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From 2017 to 2019, Lo and her small team documented not only the lives of three separate stray dogs in the city but also the many people and walks of life they interacted with. They shared the behind-the-scenes look at the filming process on their Instagram account.
“Whether it was women who were protesting for their rights on the streets or the refugees from Syria who were trying to make a living in Istanbul – a country that’s not their own – or musicians busking on the side of the street,” Lo discussed with Salon, the stray dogs always led to interesting stories. In many ways, their status as “outsiders” is one that resonates with diverse groups inside of Istanbul, who feel disenfranchised and excluded.
The film, released by Magnolia Pictures, follows Zeytin, Nazar, and Kartal — three strays from different parts of the city, whose lives converge with those of a group of Syrian refugees, among others.
Lo was influenced by Alexandra Horowitz, Senior Research Fellow at Barnard College, who has written best-selling books on dogs’ internal lives, such as “Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know.” According to PBS, Horowitz considers dogs to be “near-anthropologists among us, watching us, observing our movements, noticing our habits.” Lo focused partly on this aspect of dogs’ lives, documenting the ways they see the human world around them while remaining separate from it.
“I saw that very much in Zeytin’s life; she was quite solitary,” Lo discussed with Salon. “She would have friends that come by, and then at the end of the day, she would be alone. And I don’t know what to make of that, exactly, but it was just the way her life was.”
Promotion for the movie discusses the three dogs documented: “Zeytin, fiercely independent, embarks on adventures through the city at night; Nazar, nurturing and protective, easily befriends the humans around her; while Kartal, a shy puppy living on the outskirts of a construction site, finds companions in the security guards who care for her.”
“They’re these walking testaments to human mercy, and also non-human resilience. So every stray dog there is, to me, a miracle that I wanted to portray,” she continued. Stories like theirs are all around us; Stray aims to highlight not only how common they are, but how special they are as well. “You could probably make a film about every single stray animal in Turkey,” Lo concludes. Learn more about “Stray” and get tickets or stream it at their official website!
Watch a clip from the film below:
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