“Stray”: Adding Depth to the Dog-cumentary

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Delaney Davis

“Stray” is the latest documentary from director Elizabeth Lo, following the journey of stray dogs in Turkey.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always considered myself a dog person. Maybe it’s my strong belief that no other animal has the same devotion to their owners. . .or just that I’m allergic to cats, but I’ve always had a special connection with man’s best friend. That being said, when I heard about “Stray,” the latest documentary from director Elizabeth Lo, I was curious if 70 minutes of following stray dogs around the streets of Turkey would be able to hold my attention. Despite any reservations I had going in, I can say without a doubt that “Stray” is an immersive experience like no other. The film manages to take what seems like a simple premise, and like the dogs it features, let that premise run loose for its runtime. 

To give some more background, “Stray” follows the lives of three stray dogs in Turkey as they wander the streets looking for food and shelter. As Turkey is one of the few countries to have a  “no-kill, no-capture” policy towards all of its stray animals, it’s easy to tell that the majority of the dogs featured in the film have adapted to urban life. Shots of dogs looking both ways before crossing the street and knowing which houses to go to in order to get food were as thought-provoking as they were adorable. As much of the film is spent simply following stray dogs, there’s little spoken dialogue, at least in the first half of the movie, which provides an incredibly immersive experience for the viewer. The best way I can describe “Stray” to other fans of film is if Fredrick Wiseman were to direct a “dog-cumentary.” 

Seeing how the stray dogs featured in the film had adapted to living in a city was one of the most interesting aspects of the film to me. (Image courtesy of IMDB)

As for specific aspects of “Stray” which stuck out to me, the orchestral score used throughout the film worked really well in my opinion. I loved how naturally the score blended with the shots of dogs walking through bustling city streets, and if you liked the tone of the trailer, you’ll love the full experience in the movie. Personally, the film’s handheld camera felt slightly distracting to me at points, but the impressive cinematography at other points in the film more than made up for it. Overall, I was really impressed with a handful of aspects in “Stray,” despite its simple premise going in. 

While I would have been more than content with simply following cute dogs wander around a city for 70 minutes, “Stray” also manages to tie a deeper meaning into its story. The juxtaposition shown between how Turkish society treats stray dogs versus its actual citizens was incredibly revealing and devastating to watch. No one seemed to care that stray dogs were wandering the streets, and even offered them help and food, but all of the homeless people featured in the film are being constantly evicted from uninhabited buildings and treated horribly. Even the citizens at a women’s march seemed to be getting berated while the city’s strays got fed dinner scraps. For being worried about the scope of “Stray” going into it, this extra layer to the narrative made the experience of the film feel more complex and all the more meaningful. I love how Lo was able to add depth to the film without making it feel forced or shoehorned in, especially in something as simple as a film about stray dogs. 

The juxtaposition of the treatment of Turkey’s homeless citizens and the treatment of stray dogs in “Stray” added an extra layer of depth to the film. (Image courtesy of IMDB)

My biggest complaint with “Stray” would be the quotes that appear on screen at the start of every act in the film. While the juxtaposition between the stray dogs and the citizens featured in the movie was a great way of adding depth to a seemingly simple idea, the quotes featured throughout “Stray” felt like they were attempting something similar, but ended up being very hit or miss. I kept finding myself getting really invested in the moviewhich is important for a film centered around immersion and then being ripped out of it whenever a random quote with the word “dog” in it appeared on screen for 10 seconds. One of the quotes didn’t even relate to dogs in any way, which just left me confused and annoyed. While I really enjoyed the immersive aspects of the film, I wish there would have been more of an emphasis put into retaining that immersiveness throughout the entire feature, especially with the “dog quote” cards.

In the end, whether you’ll enjoy “Stray” really comes down to whether or not cute dogs walking around an urban setting is enough of a pull for you to watch an hour and ten minute documentary. While the film’s cinematography, scope and educational value are all admirable, there’s just something so doggone great about its cast which is impossible to find in any other film this year. Personally, I wouldn’t Stray away from a movie this fun to experience from the comfort of your own home.

”Stray” is available for streaming through FilmStreams @ home, found here.