From 2018 to 2019, I followed Zeytin with a camera and a stabilizer every day for six months while one of the three indispensable Turkish coproducers on the film (Ceylan Carhoglu, Zeynep Köprülü and Zeynep Aslanoba) would record sound on a bidirectional microphone to pick up overheard conversations. At the end of each night of filming, we’d place pet-tracking collars (Tractive GPS) onto Zeytin or Nazar so we’d be able to locate and find them the next morning. We learned very quickly that it was impossible to plan or schedule the lives of our stray subjects. Surrendering to their will, my producer Shane Boris and I decided Stray would be an experiment in what would happen if we left a film’s narrative up to dogs.
Zeytin quickly emerged as the focus of our production because she was one of the rare dogs we followed who did not inadvertently end up following us back. To the very last day of shooting, she remained radically independent. In Zeytin I saw a character who could fully envelop us within her own non-human will – a quality that was vital to a story about dogs who, unlike pets, are not only defined by their relationship to humans.
I followed Zeytin as she traversed across class, ethnic and gender lines in a way only stray dogs can. Night after night, I’d get lost following the dogs into dark alleyways. But as long as I was with them, I felt protected. They’d ward off people who paid our production unwanted attention – they truly could read my fears and desires. At the end of the night, I trusted that they would lead me back to where I needed to go to get home. I’m filled with nostalgia when I think about those wandering days.