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The last place in the world you want to be a cat is the streets of Istanbul, that’s if this K9 documentary is anything to go by.
Turkey has an impressive national no kill and no capture policy towards all its stray animals, including dogs. Although this sounds like good news, it does mean that the country’s largest city Istanbul has over 130,000 stray dogs on its busy streets.
Elizabeth Lo’s documentary, affectionately termed a ‘dogumentary’, takes to the city with our four-legged friends as you get to experience what it would be like to live in their paws.
Wandering the pavements of Istanbul looking for scraps can be found Zeytin, an impressive looking tanned dog. She is just one of thousands of strays that call the streets their home, as she navigates the hectic traffic and chaotic nature of the cityscape around her.
When she’s not scavenging for food, she has to rely on the kindness of strangers, of which thankfully there are a fair few, from restaurant owners and street vendors, to some human strays, Syrian refugees, who share a similar fate.
But in a place overrun with dogs, and with no fixed abode, staying safe and healthy is a daily challenge, as Zeytin and some of the pack she hangs with, are constantly in search of the next meal and place to lay their weary furry heads for the night.
Lo’s full length feature debut is certainly an impressive one. Instead of being a fly on the wall, you could say it’s a flea on the fur documentary, such is the feeling of proximity to its subject matter.
Most of the time you feel like a member of the pack, with the camera mostly at dog level, following in the trail of Zeytin as she goes off exploring. With no narration, other than the ambient noise and conversations of passers-by, there’s almost a hypnotic power to the film.
It could almost be seen as an art-house successor to Disney’s classic 1963 The Incredible Journey, which found two dogs and a cat finding themselves getting separated from their family on holiday and having to find their own way home. The difference being however that Zeytin and all the other dogs have no home, having to make do with what little the streets of Istanbul offer them.
It is a film that doesn’t overtly play on the heartstrings; there’s no denying that many of the dogs included are adorable, with Zeytin and puppy Kartal being the stars, but it’s less about the cute factor and more about a very real sense of community.
Lo also draws parallels with some Syrian refugees, who it appears are treated on a similar level to the dogs, with the two having an almost symbiotic relationship in order to help each other survive.
The film also raises some questions, such as although it appears a no kill and no capture policy towards the animals sounds great in principle, is it in the best interest of the dogs to have over 130,000 of them roaming the streets?
Certainly Lo’s view, mostly from the dog’s perspective, is a fascinating and remarkable one, as the film forces us to revaluate our relationship and treatment of our so-called best friend.