'What appointments did these dogs have to keep?': long lunches and brief liaisons in a radical new dogumentary

From the moment Zeytin makes her first appearance in Elizabeth Lo’s feature Stray, there is no doubt you are in the presence of a unique spirit. As she surveys an Istanbul side street at dawn, her features are alert, her gaze is uncompromising and her deep, dark eyes sparkle with intelligence. There’s something of Katharine Hepburn in The African Queen about her, or maybe Brad Pitt in one of his less kempt moments. But non-dog comparisons don’t do her justice. This is one indomitable bitch. Lo first encountered Zeytin and her friend Nazar on a 2017 casting trip to Turkey, and knew immediately that she had found the star she was looking for – which is to say, a dog who could carry a human film. “We were wandering through a busy underground tunnel filled with people when suddenly these two giant stray dogs streaked past us,” she says. “They were running with such a sense of purpose and it was so intriguing. What appointments did these dogs have to keep?”
Lo and her small crew of Turkish co-producers ended up tailing Zeytin, Nazar and another dog, Kartal, to all of their appointments around Istanbul for a period of over two years, trying to answer that question. Her documentary, filmed entirely at dog-height and given an immersive soundtrack by the sound artist Ernst Karel, reveals a rich social calendar, as the dogs trot to meetings with fishers on the Galata Bridge, lunches with refuse collectors on the Istiklal Caddesi, brisk liaisons with male dogs and long nights sleeping on construction sites with Jamil, Halil and Aliof, three refugees from Aleppo.

It’s not so black and white. It’s a myth that dogs only see in black and white. In fact, it’s believed that dogs see primarily in blue, greenish-yellow, yellow and various shades of gray.