Ceyda Torun and her husband and cinematographer, Charlie Wupperman, graced the screens this summer with their breakout documentary – Kedi – a wholly original feature looking at street cats in Istanbul and the role they play in their society. Kedi (‘cat’ in Turkish) is a little oddity of a film, which through a series of well-crafted interviews and observations profiles some of the hundreds of thousands of cats and their respective caregivers and devotees in the city, whilst extending to matters of heritage, culture and gentrification. However, at its core, Kedi demonstrates the capacity for love and respect between humans and animals, which is heightened by a seemingly intrinsic spiritual bond.
The prominence of the cats dates back to the Ottoman Empire and it is fascinating to learn how the population grew and diversified. Down a large hill in the region of Cihangir, a thriving harbour once existed. Cats from all over the world were kept on boats to deter rats. When the ships stopped to offload cargo, thinking they had reached land, the cats would leave and generally miss the ship’s departure. Thereafter, they would begin a life in the area.
A restaurant owner we meet praises the will of a guardian-like cat by the name of Little Lion, who fends off rats and mice alongside customers at the famous fish eatery on the Bosphorus strait. “Whether we like it or not, there are rats that live here by the sea. And because we’re people, we don’t give them space to live”, he says of the pest problem. And yet, exactly the opposite applies when it comes to the glorious array of cats in the film, which freely claim and roam parts of Istanbul’s metropolis in coexistence with its inhabitants.
Torun’s anthropological approach to the film is revealing of a kind of altruism in this society, which also accounts for human instincts to protect and nurture. A local fisherman claims, “People who don’t love animals can’t love people either.” It is evident that this society has a strong desire for unity and inclusion and want to be trusting of and embrace the cats as part of their families and community. The owner of a trendy café, who welcomed a feisty cat named Gamsiz (translated as ‘care-free’), shares how often he takes the cat to the vet to attend to his wounds after each of his many fights. Amazed, Torun asks about the expenses involved and he assures her that his generosity is not unique considering there is a group of people in the neighbourhood who unconditionally care for the cats and who all have running tabs at the surrounding vets.
Furthermore, the tenderness that is shown towards many of the cats is equal to that between a parent and child. One special cat named Bengü, who lives in an industrial manufacturing neighbourhood and receives attention from a number of its workmen, has a carer who goes looking for her when she is not around and describes missing her in the same way that people miss their children. At the same time, Kedi’s outlook is anthropomorphic, with an emphasis being placed on the cats’ distinctive personalities, abilities to communicate with people via a shared language, as well as being able to do justice to the love they receive.
This love is mutually beneficial and affecting. Numerous people provide accounts of the extent to which cats have healed them in times of need and despair. Some attest to this being the helping-hand of God, as well as the cats being agents who bring people closer to him. Others believe their healing power is somatic and that they naturally absorb negative energy. Herein lies a sublime and sacred purposing of cats as masters of some sort; “A cat meowing at your feet, looking up at you, is life smiling at you. Those are the moments we’re lucky. They remind us that we’re alive”.
For cat enthusiasts and those less interested alike, this film is sure to charm and warm your heart and may even leave you considering a trip to this strikingly beautiful city.
Kedi was released in UK cinemas on 30th June 2017.