Review: Dogs run free in eye-opening 'Stray'

Documentary looks at pups who freely roam streets in Turkey

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

In "Stray," filmmaker Elizabeth Lo looks at the dogs that inhabit the streets of Istanbul, and winds up finding out a lot about humanity. 

Lo spent two years following and filming a group of street pups to find out what life is like from their point of view. Through their eyes we see ourselves — our kindness, our generosity, our meanness, the whole spectrum — which again proves the ways dogs and humankind are forever linked.  

A scene from the movie 'Stray."

In Turkey, dogs are tagged by the government and are free to roam the streets as they please. This was not always the case: For most of the 20th century, dogs were rounded up off the streets and killed en masse. Protests led to a new policy, and it is now illegal to euthanize or hold captive any stray dog. 

So now, dogs are everywhere. Lo tracked a few of them from 2017 to 2019 as they navigate the city —from its busy highways to its abandoned building sites to its crowded sidewalks — and find bones, play with other dogs, fight with other dogs, eavesdrop on humans, take naps, get in scraps and chase the occasional cat. 

The star here is Zeytin, a wise-looking doggo who looks like she's seen a lot in her years, and whose eyes tell a story of hardship and survival. Zeytin commands the camera as well as she does the alleys and gutters of her native city, becoming a tour guide through Lo's story.

The narrative is free form and the only dialogue is in passing; occasionally we overhear a conversation, or we listen in as a group of boys gets kicked out of whatever temporary housing they've found for themselves. Like Zeytin and her pals, they, too are roaming the streets, their wandering presence part of the fabric of the city that Lo so colorfully and artfully illustrates. 

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

'Stray'

GRADE: B

Not rated: language

Running time: 72 minutes

Available through Cinema Detroit and Historic Howell Theater's Virtual Cinema