The cat’s meow: New documentary takes on Istanbul’s felines
İpek İzci – ISTANBULIf you want to get to know a city, they say you have to see it through the eyes of a local. In Istanbul, though, forget about any two-legged guide to the city; the true proprietors of the city on seven hills are the ubiquitous felines.
Now, director Ceyda Torun has delved into the world of Istanbul’s cats with a new documentary, “Nine Lives: Cats in Istanbul,” which is being screened as part of the 15th !f Istanbul Film Festival.
Torun recently sat down with daily Hürriyet to talk about the documentary.
Would you like to have come into the world as a cat?
Absolutely. They have quite different physical talents like super heroes. It is also beautiful that they have made themselves accepted as they are. We don’t want a cat to behave differently but accept them the way they are. They scratch us or purr for hours.
Why did you make a cat documentary?
I had a cat named Boncuk when I was a child. She had 23 babies in six years; I cared for all of them. Cats choose you; they have individuality. When they spend time with you, it’s because they want to spend time with you. Out of 10 people in a room, a cat goes to one person. It seems like they take you into their life. Maybe this is the reason why I made a cat documentary.
Are they different from our cats?
Cats in Istanbul are unique in the world. They are not in Europe or America. There are two islands dedicated to cats in Japan and Taiwan but they don’t have relations like ours. I mean cats are not given importance in other parts of the world or they disappear systematically. Cats living in metropolises abroad do not have an environment or opportunity to establish relations with many people. But the ones in Istanbul behave like they have known you for years.
Are cats the locals of the city here?
Exactly. They even know the city better than us. They stroll around the places that we can’t and see the city from very different perspectives. When was the last time you saw this from 30 centimeters above the ground?
On a roof, you filmed a cat on the opposite roof. Was this coincidence?
We went up on the roofs of Galata every morning at 6 a.m. and waited there until 12 p.m. When we went to a restaurant, cats were coming and we filmed them. We started from the coast: Kumkapı, Samatya, Galata, Karaköy, Beyoğlu, Cihangir, Beşiktaş, Nişantaşı… Before coming to Turkey, we searched for 35 venues and 35 cats.
Did you learn to view the city through the eyes of a cat?
To some extent. Because there were many places that they could go but I couldn’t. I am sure that they perceive the real mystery of Istanbul better than we do.
What is it like to be a cat in Istanbul?
It’s like being a cow in India. Of course, I don’t think that they are worshipped [here], but being a cat in Istanbul is to experience Istanbul as is required. They look at boats on the coast for hours. It is total joy.
What is the character of a stray cat according to your observations?
They are all different from each other, just like people. I have never seen a loving cat like Bengü in Karaköy. She purrs all the time. She is also jealous but even if she gets angry, it doesn’t last long. The Psikopat (psychopath) in Samatya is really a psychopathic cat. She attacks if you treat him softly. “I will eat first, then you will eat,” he says to his partner and does not let her eat. As for Sarı in Galata, I thought she was shameless at first because she attempted to take food from everywhere. But then we saw that she was taking this food to her kittens.
Who is Ceyda Torun?
Torun’s stepfather was a regional director for UNESCO. They went to Jordan when she was a child and returned when the Gulf War erupted. One year later, they moved to the United States, where she ultimately studied anthropology. When she returned to Istanbul, she worked as an assistant to director Reha Erdem. Later, she moved to London and worked as a director and producer for small-budget projects. She also worked as a producer for feature films. “Nine Lives: Cats in Istanbul” is her first documentary.