Everyone loves dogs. We enjoy watching and sharing adorable clips of them on the internet, spending hours in their company and giving them all the affection they deserve – there’s even a website dedicated to letting moviegoers know if a pup doesn’t make it to the end credits. Elizabeth Lo’s 70-minute documentary starring a pack of some of the sweetest pooches ever to be featured on film will naturally appeal to canine lovers. There’s more than enough footage of Zeytin joyfully playing with other furry friends and Karlin, a feisty puppy, sleepily staring at the camera and providing content for dozens of viral videos. However, there’s only so long the audience can watch a dog run through the streets and relieve themself before the experience begins to wear thin.
Stray is much more than a compilation of cute clips, though. Using Zeytin as the audience’s gateway to the streets of Istanbul, Lo shows just how loud, prevalent and confusing we humans must appear in comparison to the humble life of a street dog. Moreover, the filmmaker draws a striking connection to how a group of homeless Syrian teens is treated with the same mixture of disdain and sympathy by the city’s residents as the four-legged companions who they share the street with. The members of each community live off the scraps and generosity of others, while some would prefer to see them removed from the public eye entirely. Both groups are the strays – and the filmmaker wants you to realise this.
While the metaphor present in the documentary’s title is apt and poignant, placing the very human story of survival and companionship in juxtaposition to the dog’s narrative creates a strange disconnect between the film’s images and themes. When the credits roll, one can’t help but wonder if the same point could’ve been shown from the perspective of the human characters instead. In her feature, Lo presents a unique way of telling the sort of story audiences have seen before in many other documentaries. Portrayed from the viewpoint of a cast of loveable dogs, Stray contains a whole lot of cuteness. But it ultimately lacks the bite to get the most out of its message.
Stray does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2020 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.
Watch the trailer for Stray here: