By Onyx Staff | 03/12/2021

Not since Toto has man’s best friend been as faithfully portrayed on screen as it is in “Stray,” the newest offering in the Onyx’s virtual cinema catalogue.


Istanbul has a no-capture, no-kill policy for the stray animals that roam its streets. In this aptly named documentary, director Elizabeth Lo captures the city from the perspective of the stray dogs that inhabit it.


The movie tells us that Istanbul’s stray dog population stands at more than 100,000, but the lens focuses on three in particular. Zeytin, Nazar and the puppy Kartal are the canines in question, though Zeytin ends up with the dog’s share of screen time.


The narrative thread that runs through “Stray” is not overly complicated. This is a story about the dogs that roam Istanbul and the connections they make to the city’s inhabitants. It’s not unlike 2016’s “Kedi” in that regard, a similar film that chronicled the lives of cats in Istanbul. But the differences between the two documentaries extend beyond animal species. In Stray,” there are no interviews and narration is completely absent; quotes from ancient Greek philosophers Diogenes and Themistius are scattered throughout, but otherwise there is very little spoken or written word. This is complemented by the camera work, which shoots each scene from a dog’s eye view. We never look down on the dogs, but rather see the world as they do.


That isn’t to say that the human element is completely absent from “Stray.” If anything, the bond between dogs and humans is the crux of the film. Of those featured, none are more intriguing than a group of young homeless Syrian refugees. Driven from Aleppo during the Syrian civil war, the kids wander from one abandoned building to the next in search of shelter, evading security guards and police officers all the while. Often, the group is accompanied by Zeytin and Nazar. 


“Stray” obviously would like for us to draw comparisons between the dogs and the refugees. Both are unwanted, unloved, and treated as nuisances by a large portion of Istanbul’s population. It’s a mild surprise that the movie doesn’t further explore this parallel, as well as the larger plight of Syrian refugees in Turkey. But Lo is committed to telling the story from the point of view of Zeytin, Nazar and Kartal, and the film is stronger for it.


“Stray” is available to watch right now: STRAY

-Written by Spencer Kellar