KEDI: The Feline Soul of Istanbul

In this cruel, cynical, orange world, it’s nice to occasionally sit back and relax and remember that not everything is a catastrophe. Sweetness, joy, and caring people still exist in this world. If, like me, you need to be reminded of that, take the time to get off social media and locate a screening of Kedi near you.

Kedi is a documentary about the phenomenon of street cats in Istanbul. Not unlike the pigeons of Austin, cats in Istanbul are numerous, ubiquitous, and unafraid of humans. But unlike the pigeons, these cats live in symbiosis with humans in a way that is decidedly mutually beneficial. At one point a narrator calls the cats the soul of Istanbul, and the filmmakers convey that beautifully.

At no point is Kedi cutesy or cheesy or saccharine. Rather, it’s a gorgeous, slow moving tribute to a unique way of life. The word charming, though apropos, sounds a bit twee, so perhaps “mesmerizing” is a better descriptor. Interspersed with sweeping aerial shots and lovingly crafted views of both the city and the sea, Kedi introduces us to a handful of Istanbul’s free-range cats and the humans who look out for them. The quiet joy of these humans is palpable; the role of caretaker suits them, and makes for a fascinating look at community.

Director Ceyda Torun and her team take you on a lovingly crafted tour of this community. We learn not just about the cats and their people, but about the flavor of the city. Istanbul is a city of the sea; in fact, the cat population is the result of shipboard ratters from around the world that made their way on shore throughout history. These cats have integrated themselves into all aspects of life in Istanbul, and through them we visit artists’ studios, bakeries, restaurants, open-air markets, boat docks, and more.

In a way, Kedi is not just about community but about psychology, and not only of the cats themselves. The cats we meet cover a broad spectrum, from “crazy” Psikopat to Bengü the lover to Sari the hustler. But the people who care for them are just as interesting a study, crediting “their” cats for everything from good luck to saving them from a nervous breakdown. As a cat lover whose porch always contains a bite for any stays that happen by, I know how they feel. There’s nothing like the feeling of helping a creature in need, or the bond that results from it.

The interdependence of the relationships inevitably drives the concern of the caretakers. What affects the people affects the cats, and vice versa. The “progress” in some parts of the city — like tearing down mom-and-pop markets to make way for high-rises — is worrisome to the people on behalf of the cats, as their natural (and unnatural) habitat disappears. The loss of the older way of life will affect the people too; in a way, their concern for the fate of the cats is concern for their own fate and way of life. Conversely, as one narrator notes, solving the problems of one group solves the problems of the other. Kedi offers no judgement or solutions on these issues; it merely offers a window through which you can observe this fascinating aspect of life in Istanbul.

Cat lovers and lovers of Istanbul will be enraptured. But even if you don’t fall into one of those categories, Kedi offers a bright beacon in this “naughty world” for you dreamers out there.

Screenings of Kedi begin February 10, 2017 and run through May. Find a screening near you.

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