Istanbul’s charming stray cat population has already gotten the big screen treatment — care of Ceyda Torun’s loving 2017 hit documentary “Kedi” — and now it’s time for the city’s equally compelling canine community to get the same cinematic story. Elizabeth Lo’s feature documentary debut, “Stray,” follows a trio of engaging strays as their lives unfold around the big city, complete with adventures, drama, and the formation of some heart-warming bonds with many of the city’s human denizens.
Per its official synopsis, the film “explores what it means to live as a being without status or security, following three strays — Zeytin, Nazar, and Kartal — as they 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 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. 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.”
Lo, a long-time short-film director and cinematographer, previously helmed the doc shorts “Mother’s Day” and “Hotel 22,” and “Stray” marks her first full-length documentary feature. In the film’s press notes, Lo shared how she first “met” Zeytin during a trip to Istanbul, inspiring her to craft a film around the unexpected community she found around the wonderful canine star.
She added, “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.”
The documentary debuted at Tribeca last April, before going on to play at a variety of festivals, including London, DOC NYC, and Stockholm. It was nominated for two Cinema Eye Honors Awards, including Outstanding Achievement in a Debut Feature Film and Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography, along with a Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards nod for Best First Documentary Feature.
Magnolia Pictures will release the film in virtual cinemas everywhere on March 5. Check out the first trailer and poster for “Stray,” exclusively on IndieWire, below.