I had the chance to see a delightful new cat documentary: Kedi (aka Nine Lives: Cats in Istanbul). The film follows seven cats in the Turkish capital and sheds new light on their lives and how they influence the people around them.
As I'm always in for a good conversation about cats and movies, I had a chat with director Ceyda Torun about the making of Kedi.
But first, have a look at the trailer. It really gives a good impression of what the documentary is like.
What was the initial idea for this documentary and how did it transform into the final product?
Initially, we thought we could make a nature like March of the Penguins but with cats in Istanbul. We were quick to realize that we had neither the time nor the resources to make that film and we also came to see how significant the people and the city were to the story of the cats, that we finally found the direction of the film you see now. Of course, it took many months of editing and screenings and internal discussions to get there.
How significant were the cats of Istanbul in your own life?
They were my best friends. I wasn't the most social with people or rather, didn't enjoy the trappings of social expectations. I don't think I was much different from other kids – I simply chose to spend more time with the cats. They were never judgmental, they didn't demand anything from me, there was never a threat of not being liked for who I was, only for something I might have done, which I appreciated. They taught me how to be loving while being respectful.
Everyone in the documentary seems to love the cats and take good care of them. Is this the “normal” way of behaving around cats in Istanbul? Or are there just as many people who hate cats?
Of course, there are plenty of people who are “bothered” by cats, but in examining and talking with them, we realized just how little their dislike reflected on the bigger picture but that it rather highlighted some quirk about them. We also met people who appeared to really hate cats but it was nearly impossible to get a chance to interview them, mostly because they were also the same people who didn't want to make eye contact with us.
The cats in the documentary are presented as tame street cats, yet some people had cat scratchers in their homes. How many of these felines are pets in the true sense of the word?
There are no accurate numbers in Turkey. Often people have what they're calling “real pets,” who wander in and out of their homes and live a double life as street cats.
You ended up with over 180 hours of footage. How did you choose which images made the final cut?
We did an initial research shoot one year earlier where we decided on the approach to the film. We met quite a few of our subjects then. Later, before we went back to do the main filming, we had local researchers go out on the streets and try to find more leads on cat stories. We ended up with 35 leads and filmed 19 cats. We strung together the stories of individual cats first and eliminated the ones that simply weren't complete. Then we looked at how those cat stories could be strung together and built the transitional elements of the film in order to create an emotional journey and structure.
I loved the gutter cat-cam footage. What type of cat-cam did you use for this?
Though we had created some modified remote controlled cars, the best rig turned out to be the most simple one. Our cinematographers Charlie and Alp devised a rig where they could secure the two Canon 5D's we were shooting with on a platform with an elongated arm so they could control focus without having to bend over as they got tracking shots of the cats.
I'm sure there's cat-cam footage in Kedi that we haven't recognized as such?
It was all this rig. There are a few shots where we did use footage from the remote controlled car and some where we had a motion activated infrared camera which we captured the cat/rat hunt in the gutter through. We also used the GoPro 4 for the drone aerial shots.
What were the biggest challenges in making this movie?
It's a very big subject and cats are a jumping off point for nearly any subject matter, especially in Istanbul and the rest of Turkey. Exploring all the obvious angles, choosing to pursue a poetic structure was very challenging. However, it was the most enjoyable film we've ever worked on – cats climbing on us while filming, getting to eat in Istanbul, talking to people about a subject matter that made everyone happy.
Usually, the biggest challenge is securing financing. Was that also the case with Kedi?
We had a financier out of Germany who simply had faith in the cats :-)
My favorite cats in Kedi were Sari, because of how being a mother changed her, and Psikopat, because she was so funny in her role as the local psycho. Who is your favorite Kedi cat and why?
It's so difficult to pick just one, but I was very fond of Bengu and how she so wonderfully navigated the tough working neighborhood that she lived in. She somehow managed to remain loving despite what I would imagine being a tough existence, living in an area of town where people only come to work and where it feels deserted at night.
What are your favorite cats from other movies?
It's hard to choose. All The Aristocats, of course, Jonesy from Alien, and most recently Ulysses from Inside Llewin Davis. There are some great Turkish films out there, especially recently, but I don't remember seeing any in which the cat was central to the film, except for Bad Cat, which was based on Bulent Ustun's illustrated cat.
Do you have any last words about the cats in Istanbul?
Being respectful of the cats, treating them kindly and with consideration is the best I could ask of anyone.
You can see more info and screenshots of the film at Cats in Istanbul, Turkey.
Do you have any questions for Ceyda Torun? You can ask them in the comment section below.
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