Stray: Dogs run free

C+ animal documentary
Directed by Elizabeth Lo

Don’t expect a happy documentary about the wonderful relationship between people and our four-footed best friends. This documentary is about something far less enjoyable: How wild dogs manage in urban areas without a human to give them food and shelter. That’s a good subject for a doc, but this film only works in fits and starts.

Elizabeth Lo’s Stray is too repetitive. How often can you watch the same dog walking, sleeping, or scrounging for food. Another problem: This no-narration doc doesn’t give us enough information on how these beautiful animals survive in the big city.

The film centers on Zeytin, a large, beautiful female. She seems to have learned a lot about living in a busy city – specifically Istanbul. She knows when to cross the street (although there’s one shot of her lying in a busy intersection). She occasionally accepts pats on the head or a bit of food from human admirers. On her own, she goes through garbage cans. When she meets another dog, they play, but when she meets a pack of them, things can get violent.

I initially assumed that Lo named Zeytin for the movie. But several people on the street also call her by that name. Does everyone in this metropolis know this stray dog’s name? And if so, why doesn’t someone adopt this beautiful and calm creature.

Early on, an intertitle tells us that the Turkish government used to kill wild dogs. Eventually that was stopped, And now killing or caging a wild dog can get you arrested. But those printed words don’t tell us enough. Does the government, or a non-profit organization, round up such dogs to spay or neuter them, then either make them available for adoption or let them loose? A shot of Zeytin mating answers the question.

Other intertitles contain quotes from the Greek philosopher Diogenes, mostly about the obvious superiority of dogs over people.

Zeytin isn’t the only canine character in the doc. Nazar is somewhat smaller and friendlier – and has a tag in her ear. And then there’s the adorable puppy, Kartal. He (or she) is the sort of mutt that wouldn’t wait five minutes in an American shelter before she’d be adopted.

But throughout the movie, a much more important and interesting story is unfolding in the background. As the camera is focused on dogs, people are losing their homes and their freedoms. Poverty-stricken squatters, mostly teenagers, are being thrown out of the crumbling buildings that are their only form of shelter. Meanwhile, the government is taking away the people’s liberties and creating a dictatorship.

Frankly, much as I love dogs, I wanted to see more of the human politics.

You can buy an e-ticket to stream Stray on the website’s of several Bay Area theaters, including the Balboa, Orinda, Roxie, Rafael, Roxie, Sebastopol, and Vogue.