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Uploaded:2017-05-10
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A beautifully-shot documentary that tracks the stories of seven cats that live on Istanbul’s streets, Kedi reveals a city's humanity, the unique relationship between humans and cats, and warms the heart. It is a love letter to cats and their city.

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In Istanbul, the cat is more than just a cat.

The cat embodies the indescribable chaos, the culture, and the uniqueness that is the essence of Istanbul. Without the cat, Istanbul would lose a part of its soul.

And there’s nothing like it anywhere else on earth. She’s a real hunter now. She wasn’t like that before.

She changed after giving birth. Before that, all she did was sleep. Chilling here all day.

Sometimes I talk to her. And she actually talks back. She’s a solid character.

She’ll stubbornly stand there. You’ll tell her to leave. She won't, she’ll just stare. "I’m not leaving," she’ll say, "where are you kicking me out to?" "I’ll be back anyway." "What are you trying to do, wise guy?" She’s really, you know, strong-willed.

She’s got personality. Some cats really have character, you can tell from their faces. I think it’s wrong to trap them in a house... just so we can pet them.

There are millions of them out there, we pet them all we want. What matters is being on the same frequency as them. To communicate with them.

Besides, they can tell... who likes them and who doesn’t. They notice. And they give off good energy.

They absorb all your negative energy. We’re lucky. They do me good.

It’s that time again. Time to cruise. She comes and goes.

She came around one day. I knew she'd been pregnant. It was obvious she had given birth.

She led me to the back, to show me her kittens. It’s so fascinating... they’re just like people. The love of animals is a different kind of love.

People who don’t love animals can’t love people either. I know that much. Bengü!

Bengü! Come. Come, girl.

She was one of four kittens. She was the scrawniest one. And the ugliest.

The other three left, she stayed. Sometimes she makes me angry. But why?

I’ve never thought about it. I guess I must be in a bad mood. But I never hit her or anything.

I tell her to leave but she never does. She walks to the door and comes back. Bengü has been with us eight or nine years.

She came here as a kitten… and never left. Bengü loves to be loved. Honestly.

She loves it when you pet her – she nearly passes out. It’s not the kind of sappiness from old Turkish movies... but I do look for her. If I don’t see her, or hear her voice… if she’s not around when I get here in the morning….

I get worried and look for her. Maybe she is like a child. People miss their kids, right?

I miss her. Bengü is very delicate. If you pet another cat, she’ll get jealous and sulk.

She’s very sensitive, Bengü. That’s it, that’s the spot. That’s the spot.

She’s done for. And then here. And here.

Look at her delight. You really know how to live. Bengü has given birth but I haven’t seen where.

Try attacking her kittens and you’ll see another side of her. I’ve heard they'd always keep a cat on board a ship. To absorb your excess energy.

I know soil does the same thing. Prayer beads do the trick for me. This cat is good for me too.

Besides, we’ve gotten used to her. She’s become one of us. Coming and going unconditionally.

And endless conversations too. THESE CUPS ARE FOR CATS AND DOGS. IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE DESPERATE FOR A CUP OF WATER IN THE NEXT LIFE...

DON’T TOUCH THESE CUPS. They can’t just fly away like birds. It’s our responsibility to take care of them as best as we can.

It is said that cats are aware of God’s existence… but that dogs are not. Dogs think people are God, but cats don’t. Cats know that people act as middlemen to God’s will.

They’re not ungrateful, they just know better. Petting a cat gives me a peculiar sense of security. Even though we don’t speak each other’s language... we immediately form a shared language.

I imagine having a relationship with cats must be a lot like being friends with aliens. You make contact with a very different life form… open a line of communication with one another... and start a dialogue. And they’re very foreign to us, very different.

Whether physically, mentally, or in capacity they’re very different. Yet, we’re able to have a relationship with them. Of course I can’t take the place of their mother… but I do what I can.

I wonder if I should feed them again. Alright, alright, I’m gonna feed you. When they’re full, they don’t make a peep.

They’re really hungry. Someone dumped them over by the shops. Then they brought them over here.

Relying on me being here. I had an incident with a cat, it’ll shock you if I tell you. About fifteen years ago my boat was docked over there, it sank in a storm.

I had barely managed to pay for it. Sold whatever I had. But got the boat.

I barely had it a week and the boat sinks. Then, I’m walking over by the rocks there… it’s extraordinary what I’m about to tell you. I’m walking along, I see this cat, pointing me to a wallet.

A cat the same color as this one – no lie. Exactly that color. Meow, meow!

I thought, what’s up with this cat? Does it have rabies or something? I was a bit scared.

So I went to have some tea. But something kept bothering me to get the wallet. Even the tea guy asked if I was OK.

I said, I don’t know, something strange is going on. I got up, took a look inside the wallet…. I swear, I needed 120 lira… and there was 120 lira inside that wallet.

Whoever doesn’t believe this story is a heathen in my books. Can you imagine? God Almighty.

What is that if not a godsend? That’s how my love for animals began. After I found that wallet, I started caring for cats.

But taking care of cats isn't easy. I have to give them milk, if I’m gonna keep them alive. These guys are quite big, they should survive.

But neglect them for a couple of days, they’d surely die. They survived in that box because it’s warm in there. And that chubby one came along and became a mother to them.

He keeps them warm. I guess they think he’s their mother too. Both a father and a mother.

He’s both a father and a mother to them. - You have two children at home, right? - Yes, I have two. So you know what it’s like to be a parent. Oh, it’s tough.

Whether we like it or not, there are rats that live here by the sea. And because we’re people, we don’t give them space to live. But admittedly, they are a pest... and it’s not good for them to be around where people eat.

We considered rat poison, we’ve used that in the past. But just when we decided to let the rats die on their own… this little lion of a cat showed up. He takes care of them at night, as nature dictates.

We didn't tell him to hunt the rats, he took it upon himself. To tell you the truth, he earns his keep. You know the saying, "do justice to one’s love"?

That’s what he does. He does justice to the love he gets. We’re grateful to him.

Life is beautiful. If you know how to live. You can love if your heart is open.

Everything is beautiful when you look at it with love. If you can enjoy the presence of a cat, a bird, a flower… what can I say, all the world will be yours. She is the toughest of all the females.

Trouble for all the fishermen. A fish thief. Arch enemy of the dogs.

She’ll chase any of them, even pit bulls. She's the neighborhood psychopath. She doesn’t like soft love.

She likes tough love. She’ll start from the top of the church and patrol the whole place. She’s a very interesting animal.

The only thing she’ll steal is fish. She’ll stand in front of the fish vendors over there refusing to leave even if they shoo her away. She won’t take anchovies or mackerel either, she prefers bluefish.

Then she’ll make the fishermen chase her all the way here. She likes to live a life of luxury. She even makes her husband respect her.

She chases him off. She’s leaving so he can eat. Now, Osman Pasha gets his turn.

She doesn’t want to lose him to anyone else either. Girls prettier than Psycho have come around, right? There’s an instinctive jealousy.

She’s like a vicious housewife. A jealous housewife who doesn’t leave her husband alone. And doesn’t let anyone else near him either.

She comes around when she wants to be loved. Gets her fill of love and leaves. But I can’t do as I please.

I grabbed her tail, she bit my hand. But she does as she wishes. That’s very important to me.

That she never compromises her freedom. She has a fighting spirit. That’s what I like.

She has qualities that people should have. Their posture feels very feminine to me. I don’t see that elegance in women anymore.

We’ve lost that, but cats carry themselves so well. Especially in this country, in a city like this... it’s very difficult to be a woman, to be female. To express your femininity, to be defiant with your femininity.

Being female… and if you’re a "pretty little thing"… you feel like you have to account for all of it. When you’re alone for long periods your animal instincts get sharper. I really believe that.

Maybe it’s a quality that should be developed more in all of us. As if it’s better to be so human, so modern. There’s a power you can feel within yourself, of a wild creature.

I think everyone needs to discover that in themselves. Cats are satisfied with their existence. And they’re very sure of their character.

But it’s not enough for us. We always want more. That mentality poisons us and destroys everything.

And maybe in the near future, in two or three years we may no longer see cats on these streets. They all have personalities, like people. If you look closely, we’re the same.

Some want affection, others will tell you all their troubles. Some are discreet, won’t talk about anything. Others are ambitious.

And some are pompous... like a lady who can’t be bothered to say hello. Cats are exactly the same. Some won’t even look when I call to them.

I believe they share the same traits as people. Deniz! Deniz!

He was a tiny little thing. He looked down at me from up there. We wondered where this beat-up little guy came from.

I brought him down from the roof. Who knows where he came from. Being a young male, he attacked us at first.

A couple of months later, he started approaching us for food. Once we could stroke him, he was tamed. Now he’s become a very friendly cat.

It all changed over the last five years, when these buildings went up. It used to be all green here. There were orchards, and gardens where they’d grow crops.

When these buildings went up, it all disappeared – no nature left. Oh dear. Look at them, seven plump kittens!

These kittens... it’ll be a shame if they tear this place down. I don’t know what we’ll do. This will be a major road.

They want to connect these buildings. We’re more worried about what’ll happen to the cats than what might happen to us. If this area gets demolished, and that's likely, they won't have anyone.

At some point, they miss the streets. They can find some earth out here. To do their business.

It’s harder to do that in a house with cat litter. But out here they dig it up. Oh no, where did he come from? - An older cat got to him in the backyard. - Oh sweetie. - I immediately thought of you. - What are we going to do with you?

You poor, poor thing. Is he gone, I wonder. Is he dead?

He must have slammed him against the ground… got attacked by a bigger cat. It’s a fact of nature. It happens.

This one was my first child. She was special not only because she was my first but also because she had great character. She died of breast cancer.

I would dress her to keep her from licking her wounds. I tried very hard to find a cat like her again... but I came to realize that it was futile, that she was one of a kind. My longing for her... let’s just say if there is afterlife, I want to meet her again, not my grandmother.

We cook twenty pounds of chicken every day. We don’t feed them dried cat food or anything artificial. My therapist says I try to heal my own wounds by healing theirs.

By feeding them and tending to their needs. My wounds must be so deeply rooted… they still haven’t healed despite all this. I guess I’ll heal when they heal.

There was a time I had great difficulty dealing with death. I accept death as a reality... but I have difficulty dealing with the longing. That’s my problem with death.

Now we’ll go out to distribute the morning meal. This is our daily routine, seven days a week, including Sundays. Wait honey, wait.

Come, come my girl. My little darlings. Come, I’ve got your food!

There were sixty but five died in the last two weeks. And it’s always cancer. We say it happens to people, but it happens to animals too.

We eat and drink the same - the same food, the same water. We've raised a lot of cats. Some grew old and died, quite a few got run over.

We learned that something you love can one day cease to exist. We adopted a sense of stoicism that way. We had a cat cemetery in the backyard.

My older brother and I would bury them with great ceremony. And because we’d see crosses in cowboy movies like that last scene in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly we thought they looked impressive. We’re not Christian, but they look cool in movies and because we weren’t about to engrave tiny gravestones we’d make crosses out of twigs.

Then one day our father saw us and freaked out over the crosses. Immediately sent us to Qur’an school so that we wouldn’t suddenly turn Christian. We told him not to worry, obviously.

If I hadn’t had cats, I would’ve had a very troubled childhood because interacting only with people is not enough… and especially difficult with grown-ups. I love cats who hang out in vintage stores, "hmm the smell of paper"… stretching out among old LPs. It’s especially satisfying when I’m sketching she sleeps in the drawer like a vintage store cat.

I check the drawer once in a while… "OK, she’s still asleep"… And I carry on working. Because drawing is such isolating work, a sleeping cat can really give you comfort. Any ungrateful behavior on their part is really an act of sincerity.

They don’t need to apologize. I guess there are people who expect that from a cat. "I gave you all that food and you won’t even sit on my lap." A relationship where they expect a return on an investment. Down the hill in Cihangir, there used to be a big harbor during the Ottoman era.

Ships from Norway and elsewhere would come with cargo. Sailors would keep cats on board to fend off rats. As cargo was being unloaded, cats would get off the boat thinking that they’d made it to land.

And trek up to the top of the hill. Later, they’d miss the boat and begin life here in Cihangir. Now, there are countless kinds of cats in this area.

Norwegian cats, and cats from all over the world. There’s a lot of variety. Later, the first Ottoman sewers were built in this part of the city.

And giant rats would terrorize residents. That’s why every house had a cat. To fend off the giant sewer rats.

His name was "Milkman" when he first showed up. He’d come around to drink milk and leave. He was barely a year old.

He hadn't been neutered. Then he started showing up all beat up. He got into fights with other males over the ladies.

He got kicked one time and showed up with a dislocated leg. He was bitten by a dog and showed up with a hole in his butt. But it never ruins his mood – he’s always happy.

A neighbor of mine started calling him carefree, happy-go-lucky. So the name Gamsiz – carefree – stuck. Our vet Elif down the road thought Gamsiz was in love with her.

Because at one point we were making a trip to the vet every two weeks. Constantly getting in trouble. He’d have an accident, get hurt, or develop a fungal infection.

For months, we visited the vet every two weeks. Once he spent a whole winter at the vet. Doesn’t that get expensive?

I guess it does. But we all have running tabs at the vet. There’s a bunch of us in the neighborhood.

We have an open tab at pretty much every vet. We also collect donations which help with these expenses. Whatever is in our tip box goes to the cats.

Gamsiz is a bit of a thug. He’s feisty, the tough guy of the neighborhood. But, if you wanted go out at night, he’s the one you’d want to go out with.

He’s that guy. He’s fun. There’s Laçin across the street – he really likes her.

She’s told me that he comes to her window and demands to be let in. Or he’ll go up to the front door if he wants to enter the building. She says sometimes he even spends the night.

When he wants sausages, he goes to Filiz. Everyone offers something different… but there are also the people that cats choose for themselves. Gamsiz has a wide range.

I’m the main human in his life… others are supporting actors. Because I’m on the first floor, it’s easy for cats to come up here. My place has many visitors but I try not to let them in because I have a cat of my own.

Murat doesn’t take care of just one cat. He cares for many and knows all their characters. I met Gamsiz at the café, he was lying on the couch.

And when I tried to sit down, he smacked me. That’s how we met. After that, I smothered him with love, of course.

They take note of that immediately, you know. They remember if you made a connection. As a result, he came up here.

At first I didn’t let him in. But unlike anyone else, Gamsiz stands sideways. Like this.

A single paw in the air. He seems to be knocking like this. He’s always like that.

Whereas all other cats, including mine, stand facing forward. But this guy, whether he comes up to the front or back window always has this sideways stance. He strikes this charming pose.

And with that paw, he somehow gets your attention. If you ignore him, he gets even more persistent. Especially if you’re right where he wants to come in he gets really rowdy and eventually forces you to let him in.

I respect him a lot because of that. What’s really special about him is that he’s a go-getter. Once he makes up his mind about something... let’s say he’s decided to come here and eat Gece’s food that’s his mission for the day.

There’s no stopping him. Come, Gece! OK, that’s enough.

Everybody out. Ginger is new to the neighborhood. We’ve only recently started seeing him.

But he’s really determined to take over the neighborhood. He’s fighting over territory. "My hood." "I might be new here, but I’m a cat of strength." "I’m a cat of quality." "You’ll see, I’ll gain control of this territory." That’s his attitude. That’s what I first admired about cats… the way I admired superheroes like Spiderman or Superman...

I believed cats had superpowers too. I never stopped being in awe of them. Having nine lives, or being able to land on all four feet….

If only we could land on all fours. We land on two and they snap like twigs. I had to leave early yesterday.

I was sad I couldn’t bring enough food. I couldn’t eat my dinner with a clear conscience. It’s overwhelming when I think of them back there.

I have a lot of friends who know what I do here... but they don’t understand why I take it upon myself. They think God will provide for them. I say "Sure, but I’m the middleman." Besides, it’s better than spending my time at the café.

Even though he’s young, he prefers fish. One of them has an eye infection. So I have to give him antibiotic drops.

We've picked up a few things after so many trips to the vet. I know all of them. I know this one’s mother, her aunts, all five generations.

I remember all her family members. The one that just gave birth... she’s this one’s little sister. During winter, they find shelter under those rocks.

They stay alive with the warmth of the sea. Other than that, they don’t have a home. There’s one missing here.

The one that just gave birth. Let’s see if she’ll come when I call. I had a nervous breakdown in 2002.

That’s when I got more involved with cats. Doing this cured me. I was really caught up, I was really lost.

This truly is therapy. Now I’m happy, honestly. Thanks to them.

I wouldn’t be otherwise. No drug was able to save me. They’re all waiting for me here.

Their feeding time is near. I believe I got healthy again by taking care of them. Before, I couldn’t talk or laugh.

But now... let’s just say, they make you fall in love again. Just as you notice the cat, the cat notices you. It’s very mutual.

I think that mesmerizes me a little, that it’s so reciprocal. It’s like a mirror. Duman – Smokey – has been with us for two years.

My guess is that he was kicked out of some place, because the first night he showed up. I saw him coming down the street he was complaining very loudly. He won’t let himself be a pet like other cats.

He never harasses our customers for food. In time, I came to realize that he was different to other cats. He’s a cat with manners.

No matter how hungry he is, he won’t come in, even if the door is open. He lets us know he’s hungry by pawing at the window. He’s a bit of a glutton.

He knows that his favorite food is back here so he gets excited every time he sees us here. He was quite overweight... nearly 12 pounds when he first showed up. As our vet also recommended, we decided to put him on a diet.

We fed him less and less food or only smoked meats. We give him some Manchego or a softer cheese like Emmental. A little bit of smoked turkey.

He can also be very picky about the meat he eats. He used to love roast beef, but now, he only wants turkey. I’d say he’s quite happy.

He does get around a lot, though. But he never hangs out with other cats. He’s always alone.

Always alone. There have been times we’ve gotten him out of dumpsters, too. Beneath that aristocratic appearance, there is still a street kid.

In a way, street animals are our cultural symbol. Istanbul and cats... So many cats roaming the streets of a city.

They’ve become a distinct trait of Istanbul. The streets seem empty to me without cats… but it's a strange situation. It’s a total dilemma if you ask me.

The city no longer accommodates them. But at home, and I know from my own cats they forget their cat-ness after a while. Our concerns for street animals and our concerns for people are completely related to one another.

If you ask me, the troubles that street cats or other street animals face are not independent from the troubles that we all face. It would be easy to see street cats as a problem and handle them as a problem. Whereas if we can learn to live together again, maybe we’ll solve our own problems as we try to solve theirs.

In fact, I’m sure that we would even regain our fading sense of humor and rekindle our slowly dying joy for life. See how he comes to me, isn’t it amazing? I thank God.

Isn’t that right, Bombis? My love! Right, Bombis?

God says, "I test people." God brings us closer to him in different ways. For me, it was these animals. I guess I was worthy of his love.

A cat meowing at your feet, looking up at you is life smiling at you. Those are moments when we’re lucky… they remind us that we’re alive.