(Documentary; 79 minutes)
Director and Producer: Ceyda Torun
My wife and I spent ten days in Istanbul during the summer of 2016.
Despite arriving only a short time after an attempted coup, we found the atmosphere of the ancient city calm, though obviously its population had some misgivings regarding the schemes and mindset of the country’s autocratic president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. That unease turned out to be more than justified as, sadly, Erdogan’s thuggish behaviour has only gotten worse. This is not the proper forum to discuss such matters, so I’ll only say that for the sake of the average Turkish citizen, we’ll hope and pray Erdogan’s tenure will soon come to an end.
In Istanbul, cats were everywhere we looked: in the narrow lanes and passages, tiptoeing along rooftops, sprawled on awnings, slipping through the smallest openings, mooching food at outdoor cafes. Locals not only tolerated the feral cat population, many of them left food and water for them, regarding them with rough affection. On a tour bus to Troy, we asked our guide, Mustafa, if cats were granted freedom of the city to reduce the rodent population but he insisted they were “blessed creatures”, deserving of special consideration and kindness. He seemed genuinely appalled when we described how strays were rounded up in North American cities and, in many cases, euthanized.
Film maker Ceyda Torun took it upon herself to document the lives of some of the felines inhabiting Istanbul since its creation, nearly two millennia ago. Displaying enormous ingenuity, she manages to give us a “street’s eye” view of their world and the humans they sometimes interact with. Her subjects are skittish, mercenary, cranky, urbanized; seasoned survivors. Fiercely independent and unlikely to accommodate intrusive cameras or a structured, controlled filming environment.
Nevertheless, the resulting movie is a delight, charming and thoughtful, a meditation on the relationship between people and their animal companions, a mutually beneficial co-dependency going back uncounted thousands of years. Among the city residents interviewed for the film are men and women who have taken it upon themselves to feed the many strays, spending hard-earned money on groceries, carefully preparing meals for their hungry charges…and they have done so as part of a healing process, serving a vulnerable population with no expectation of reward. Meanwhile bearing the haunted, shattered visages of most confirmed saints.
But it’s the cats who steal the show: “Deniz” and “Bengu” and “Duman” and “Gamsiz”. Ms. Torun and her cameraman, Charlie Wuppermann, reveal their secret lives and hidden places while, simultaneously, giving us the rare pleasure of experiencing one of the world’s eternal cities, the jewel of Byzantium, from a perspective previously denied us.
For that, we can only say to all parties involved: “Tesekkur ederim”.
ΩΩΩΩ (Out of 5)
Note: “Kedi” is currently playing at the Roxy Theatre in Saskatoon–you’ll find show information here.