I read a few reviews of the documentary film Kedi before I watched it. All suggested it was compelling and full of beautiful, unusual perspectives but that, at 79 minutes, it was at least twice as long as it should have been. Don't believe it! Not for a second did I tire of this story of the street cats of Istanbul.
It turns out that Istanbul has a very different cat culture than most cities. While there still must be many cats who live domesticated indoor lives, in the Turkish capital city the streets teem with felines who are tame and usually love the attention of humans (unlike feral cats), but don't necessarily have permanent homes and fend for themselves for the most part. Residents leave food and water and construct sometimes elaborate cat shelters. Many are guardians to cat communities but the cats themselves are free spirits (or even more free than usual). Most city residents seem to relish interactions with the cats and see them in a very positive light.
Ceyda Torun's film Kedi (Turkish for cat) is a delight. It combines long establishing shots, both aerial and cat-level, of Istanbul with very particular stories of cat characters and the humans who love and care for them. There is the "well-mannered" cat who lives outside a delicatessen where he asks for food by pawing persistently at the windows from the cafe-style seating outside. He won't come inside but has developed tastes for just certain smoked meats and fancy cheeses. Another cat runs his territory with an iron fist, despite threats from newcomers. A seaside restaurateur describes one how cat turned up to control the local mice and rats. A man takes bags and bags of food around the city, explaining how the company of cats was the only thing that helped him after a nervous breakdown. And another man takes to his boat with dog and two cats and tells the story of how a cat brought him to a wallet with just the amount of money he needed after his boat sank. There are so many more stories and they all unfold leisurely and with great compassion and beauty.
There are a few areas of concern. The greatest is gentrification, as rambling, bustling street markets and ramshackle neighborhoods are threatened with demolition to make room for sterile high-rises where there is little space left for cats or nature. This is just one aspect of the film which reflects a greater story about Istanbul and cities in general. The other is that there are so so many kittens. This is adorable, of course, but with thousands of cats already, it's hard not to wonder if the population will increase beyond capacity. Hopefully we will all find a way to live together and respect each other. On that front, this film is inspiring and hopeful.
Plays 1st October 2016 9:15 PM at The Cinematheque and 3rd October 2016 11:00 AM International Village 9. Added screening! OCT 2, 1:00PM VANCITY.