A Movie About the Cats of Istanbul

The other night Judy and I went to see a movie called Kedi – a documentary about the cats of Istanbul. We visited Istanbul at the end of 2009, and had loved many things about the city – including the omnipresent cats. Judy took the photos in this post during that trip.

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There are hundreds of thousands of cats in Istanbul. They are everywhere – even inside many of the city’s most venerated sites. We saw a cat, for instance, soaking up warmth from a spotlight at the Hagia Sophia.

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Istanbul street cats seem better off than the typically scruffy feral cat found in America. Many, not quite wild, are fed and petted by a circle of human patrons (not owners).

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Kedi is a movie about seven Istanbul street cats and the humans who love them. It was conceived of by the Turkish-born producer-director Ceyda Torun. On the movie’s website, Torun writes:

I grew up in Istanbul and I believe my childhood was infinitely less lonesome than it would have been if it werenʼt for cats … They were my friends and confidants and I missed their presence in all the other cities I ever lived in.

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Kedi is a joy to watch, and not just for lovers of cats. Both the people and the cats in this film are deeply appealing, although the cats are funnier. But I was also inspired by the tenderness and affection that the people (a disparate group including a fishmonger, an artist, a shopkeeper, a waiter) offered to their half-wild feline friends.

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And Istanbul, with its bustling streets and waterways, is itself is an enchanting presence in the film.2009-12-26 05.40.53

Seeing Kedi may not be as easy as it should be. In the Chicago area it played at only two theaters, and only for a few days. Here’s a link to a list of screenings around the USA. Maybe it will eventually be on Netflix or one of its competitors. You can also buy a digital version.

In the meantime, here’s a link to the trailer.



51 Comments on “A Movie About the Cats of Istanbul”

  1. I was stationed in Turkey back in the early 60’s. Cats were always hanging around our apartment. The locals told us that it was extremely bad luck to kill a cat as it was expected that Ataturk come back as a cat. Was there any of that in the movie?

    • So interesting about Ataturk! That’s not mentioned in the movie. Pictures of Ataturk were all over in 2009 when we visited. We asked several people about it, and they all expressed how important Ataturk had been for the country, that they would be so much worse off if he hadn’t been a part of their history. They had genuine admiration and affection for him.

    • I think Istanbul is the place most unlike the US that I have visited, and it must have been much more so when you were there in the 1960s. I believe many of the old wooden buildings were still around then?

      We were astonished by the history- and glad to have our son David to explain much of it to us, as he had developed an inexplicable fascination with Alexander the Great and Greek and Roman history when he was younger. And unlike in the US, where ruins are roped off, we could walk through 2000 year old stadiums and sit in the royal seats, and pet the stone lions.

  2. As a huge cat lover, that sounds like such a wonderful movie! As someone who moved around a lot growing up, my cat definitely made my life much less lonesome. That is great that Istanbul has so many cats. In places I’ve been such as India, there are many wild dogs, but one rarely sees a cat.

  3. I bet there’s a century old history behind all these communal pets. What a great part of the culture! I think overall urban wildlife is underrated and we kind of think only the natives count. It’s such a man made environment that I think we should welcome all the company… except for the rats and mice…. not so crazy about them…

    • Istanbul is a major port city. The movie mentions, without going into too much depth, that people think the cats may have come off of sailing ships, in the days when every ship needed to have a cat to keep down the mouse and rat population.

  4. Clif and I saw “Kedi” a couple of weeks ago, and I thought it was a terrific doc, soulful and lovely. In central Maine, we are lucky to have Railroad Square Cinema, which plays independent movies like “Kedi.” Also, I was interested in your comment that when you went to Istanbul, you noticed the street cats seemed to be in pretty good shape. After seeing the movie, Clif and I commented about that and wondered if the filmmaker had focused on cats that looked especially good. After reading your comment, I would have to assume she did not.

  5. Great photos of the cats, and nice to see them looking so healthy…much more so than the inner city cats of Sydney. I absolutely love the photo of the cat keeping warm in the spotlight. Many of our friends have been to Istanbul and loved the city….but for the moment, I’ll look out for the movie.

  6. I did enjoy this, wonderful photos of the cats! That is a movie I shall have to see, the trailer certainly pulled me in. Cats seem to survive everywhere, I’ve seen them in rocks on beaches and living in jungles. Recently in Malaysia, they seemed to be everywhere, like those, very friendly yet still feral, they where all very vocal and had the strangest curly tails. I must post on them one day.xxx

  7. Hi Jason,

    So glad you posted this. Am going with a good friend Tuesday to see it. Can’t wait!


    *There are two means of refuge from the misery of life -music and cats. — Albert Schweitzer The human race has one effective weapon–and that is laughter.–Mark Twain*

  8. Thanks for the heads up. My former house was located in a neighborhood with a large feral cat population. Although I consider myself more of a dog person, I moved three of the cats with me last year (two I had to trap to get neutered). Cats are such independent sorts, aren’t they?

  9. Also, I’m curious about whether there were also lots of dogs roaming around. There is a rescue group in Massachusetts that “rescues” golden retrievers from Turkey and ships them to the states for new homes. I found that a little bizarre.

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