Directed by ELIZABETH LO

Doc. / 2020 / 72 min. / with English subtitles

“Human beings live artificially and hypocritically and would do well to study the dog.” – Diogenes of Sinope, 360 B.C.

Through the eyes of three stray dogs wandering the streets of Istanbul, STRAY explores what it means to live as a being without status or security. As they search for food and shelter, Zeytin, Nazar and Kartal embark on inconspicuous journeys through Turkish society that allow us an unvarnished portrait of human life — and their own canine culture. Zeytin, fiercely independent, embarks on solitary 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 refuge with the security guards who care for her. The disparate lives of Zeytin, Nazar and Kartal intersect when they each form intimate bonds with a group of young Syrians who share the streets with them. Whether they lead us into bustling streets or decrepit ruins, the gaze of these strays act as windows into the overlooked corners of society: women in loveless marriages, protesters without arms, refugees without sanctuary. The film is a critical observation of human civilization through the unfamiliar gaze of dogs and a sensory voyage into new ways of seeing.

“I nuzzle the kind, bark at the greedy, and bite scoundrels.” - DIOGENES, 363 B.C.


"The impetus for STRAY is personal. When my childhood dog died, I felt a quiet need to suppress my grief at his passing. I was shocked that something as personal as how my heart responds to the death of a loved one could be shaped by an external politics that defined him or “it” as “valueless.” As my grief evolved, I also saw how our moral conceptions of who or how much one matters can be in constant flux. This transformative moment is what propels STRAY’s exploration into value, hierarchy, and sentience.

In 2017, I traveled to Turkey, a country whose history and relationship with strays is unique in the world. Turkish authorities have tried to annihilate stray dogs since 1909, leading to mass killings of Istanbul’s street dogs for the last century. But widespread protests against these killings transformed Turkey into one of the only countries where it is now illegal to euthanize or hold captive any stray dog. Every free-roaming dog today is an emblem of resistance — living manifestations of compassion in the face of intolerance.

I first met Zeytin, our canine protagonist, as she hurried past me in a busy underground tunnel in Istanbul. Intrigued by her sense of purposefulness, I chased after her. She was quickly joined by Nazar, another street dog. As it turned out, they were on the heels of a group of young men from Syria — Jamil, Halil and Ali — who were living on the streets as refugees in Turkey. I began to follow them over months as they found shelter in construction sites and quiet sidewalks together. Despite the harshness of their circumstances, the dogs and boys had formed a makeshift family unit. The warmth and love emanating from their interdependent bond was deeply moving to me. Without the companionship of the dogs, the Syrian boys would have felt adrift in a city not their own — and perhaps it was the same for Zeytin and Nazar. Zeytin, an inconspicuous stray dog, had led me into the cracks of human society, where community is formed in the crucibles of war and neglect, and where beings persist and survive even as they are relegated to the peripheries of society.

Zeytin quickly emerged as the focus of our production because she was one of the rare dogs we followed who did not inadvertently end up following us back. To the very last day of shooting, she remained radically independent. In Zeytin I saw a character who could fully envelop us within her own nonhuman will — a quality that was vital to a story about dogs who, unlike pets, are not only defined by their relationship to humans.

For six months, from 2018 to 2019, I followed Zeytin with a camera and stabilizer every day while one of three indispensable Turkish co-producers on the film (Ceylan Carhoglu, Zeynep Köprülü, and Zeynep Aslanoba) would record sound on a bi-directional microphone to pick up overheard conversations. At the end of each night of filming, we’d place pet-tracking GPS collars onto Zeytin or Nazar so we’d be able to locate and find them the next morning. We learned very quickly that it was impossible to plan or schedule the lives of our stray subjects. Surrendering to their will, my producer Shane Boris and I decided STRAY would be an experiment in what would happen if we left a film’s narrative up to dogs." -- Elizabeth Lo


Elizabeth LoElizabeth Lo is an award-winning filmmaker who is interested in finding new, aesthetic ways of exploring the boundaries between species, class, and unequal states of personhood. Her work has been broadcast and showcased internationally, including at Sundance, Museum of Modern Art, Tribeca, SXSW, IDFA, True/False, Hot Docs, New York Times Op-Docs, Time Magazine, Field of Vision, and PBS’ POV. Elizabeth has been featured in Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film, DOC NYC’s 40 Under 40 List, Cannes Lions’ New Directors Showcase, and the artist academics of Locarno Film Festival and New York Film Festival. Her debut feature, Stray, won the Top Jury Prize at Hot Docs and was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award after premiering at Tribeca. Stray will be released by Magnolia Pictures in 2021. Elizabeth’s award-winning short films - including Hotel 22, Bisonhead, Mother’s Day, The Disclosure President, Last Stop in Santa Rosa, Treasure Island, Notes from Buena Vista - have been released for distribution to educational institutions and libraries around the world. Elizabeth holds a B.F.A. from NYU Tisch School of the Arts and an M.F.A. from Stanford University. Elizabeth is currently in development on her second feature-length film under the mentorship of the Concordia Studio Fellowship.




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