The theme of the documentary is the effects of economics on a cohesive community which is united in enterprise and caring for its street animals. Turkey has a long tradition of street dogs and such dogs are part of its literal and mythical history. There have been many attempts to rid places like Istanbul of its dogs the last of which was in 1910 and is now seen as a parallel to the Armenian genocide perpetrated by the Turks during WW1. Attempts continue, though on smaller scales with municipalities trying to poison the dogs and capture them for euthanasia when they fail to find adoptive homes. The documentary explores present-day street dogs in various Istanbul suburbs and in so doing attempts to understand and comment on what creates cohesion and division in society.
Taskafa was a street dog. He was also the alpha dog in his territory. The documentary opens with Taskafa lying on his back, sunning himself. This humorous and touching image is accompanied by a passage from a novel entitled 'King' by John Berger excerpts of which are reading by the author throughout the documentary. 'King' examines the disintegration of a society through the eye of a dog. The documentary often shows the Istanbul squares and streets from the perspective of dogs, or cats who make frequent appearances as so do gulls and one solitary crow. The society has not yet been destroyed but the novel predicts such a possibility when exclusion assumes importance in the society.
Interviews from members of the Istanbul populace are used to illustrate and explore the relationship of humans and dogs. There are many funny and poignant words from the people and as an advert for Turks and Istanbul, in particular, this film is a dream as the people communicate well their respect for all forms of life. Often for spiritual and religious reasons Turks make the care of the dogs, other animals and each other a priority. One man makes a very good argument for allowing dogs to roam wild rather than be re-homed as a traditional pet. The documentary tries to provoke us to reflect upon our relationship with those animals we categorise 'pets' and the other 'non pets'. In a more lateral sense the documentary asks us to reflect upon who we exclude and why.
The film took about 9 years to come to fruition and the director lived in Istanbul and learnt Turkish to better communicate and understand the society she wished to portray. The result is a unique picture of the high costs of gentrification and rejuvenation. It demonstrates that money rarely offers the same joys that living relationships afford whether they be with fellow humans or dogs.
The film offers a new story for many viewers and attempts to marry the blend of documentary, political commentary and literature. Its format did not always work for me and some of this was because the novel 'King' did not have the resonance for me that it did for the director. But that does not stop me recommending this if you have the opportunity, which might be rare as the film's release was delayed by trying to find a film distributor. This is very ironic; film distributors have immense power over the films the populace get to watch and are themselves agents of inclusion and exclusion.
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