When director Cedya Torun initially received the funding to make Kedi, a documentary about the stray cats of Turkey, she thought, perhaps she would create “March of the Penguins, but with cats in Istanbul.” But after weeks of research and two months of shooting, what she discovered was something else entirely.
That’s not to say that these two heartwarming documentaries don’t have their similarities—they are both beautifully shot films that take moviegoers to far corners of the world. And they have some very cute animals as the stars.
But Kedi—which will be released digitally and in select theaters on February 10—takes viewers to unexpected places of the heart and mind. It is as much a universal human story of compassion and connection, as it as a fascinating insight into the culture of cats in Turkey.
“We wanted to make a documentary, and the only thing we were passionate about were cats and cats’ places in people’s lives,” Torun tells PawCulture.
That’s exactly why Istanbul was the perfect place to shoot the film. The historic city is home to thousands of stray cats. But unlike some other global cities where feral cats are unjustly stereotyped and considered a “problem,” the people of Istanbul respect and care for stray cats every single day.
The humans of Kedi do everything for their neighborhood cats, from feeding them treats to taking them to veterinarians when they are hurt or sick, to building them safe havens from the outdoor elements. Istanbul residents see it as their responsibility to give the cats the love and respect that the felines give to them.
It’s a feeling that Torun, a lifelong cat lover, knows well. “There’s such openness and truth to their actions—they are who they are,” she says. “For me, they force me to be very present and focused on what I’m feeling when I’m interacting with them.”
From cafes to street corners, Kedi follows seven different cats, and documents the humans whose lives they have touched and altered in often surprising ways. As a viewer, it’s impossible not to fall in love with both the people and the cats they so admire.
“It was really, really hard to leave them after shooting,” Torun says, admitting she developed a strong attachment to the felines while filming the documentary. “You have these conflicting feelings of, ‘How many of them can I take home?’ But you can’t really ask that of a cat.”
But even if Torun couldn’t physically bring the cats home to America with her, she did bring back the felines’ powerful spirits to life through the film.
The documentary also shows a different side of Istanbul, which at the time of filming, was going through political turmoil. “It’s not too dissimilar to what we’ve been seeing here in the United States,” says Torun. “I felt we really needed to see people and a community in ways that are different from just news reports.”
It was the spirit of the people of Istanbul, and their willingness to take care of other beings that stuck with her the most during and after filming.
“I [felt] so uplifted and positive about our future as a species. It really did restore my faith in humanity,” Torun says. “There’s enough good and loving human beings out there. If you focus on seeing those people, you will feel better.”
The director says her greatest hope for the film, is to not only encourage and inspire, but to open a dialogue about how we can make the world a safer, more loving place for all the creatures in it.
“I hope people can find ways to co-exist with cats—and all animals— in ways that help both us and them.”
Image via Oscilloscope Films
Aly Semigran is a lifestyle writer for the world, and roommate of Ruby, the cutest dog in the world.