The street cats of Istanbul will work their feline magic on American viewers when boutique distributor Oscilloscope brings the irresistible documentary “Kedi” to theaters in early 2017. “Kedi,” which translates as “cat” in English, marks the feature documentary debut of Istanbul-born helmer-producer Ceyda Torun and her cinematographer-producer husband Charlie Wuppermann. It’s the first Turkish docu to find a U.S. theatrical release since Fatih Akin’s “Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul” (2006).
The charming “Kedi” is a city symphony of sorts, taking in its purview the changing nature of the megalopolis as well as the people who love and care for its feline population. Torun and Wuppermann filmed for two months in April and May of 2014, shooting six day weeks, for 16 hours a day or more. Torun says, “When your subjects are available for filming 24/7, it’s impossible to set down the camera, even during meals.”
While only seven kedis wound up making the final cut, Torun notes, “We had ‘leads’ on roughly 40 cats before we started shooting, ended up shooting about 20 and came down to seven in the edit. I wanted to find stories that felt whole in themselves, but also stories that when we weaved them together, created the kind of emotion I was hoping to convey to the audience.”
Torun and Wuppermann created some technical innovations to capture a cat’s eye view of the city as well as a harbor-side mouser at work. Torun says, “We took apart remote-controlled trucks and fitted cameras on them, we built camera rigs that allowed us to get as low to the ground as possible to get ‘over the shoulder’ shots of the cats as we tailed them. Our main cameras were the Cannon 5D Mark III with film lenses. The shots of the mouse and mouse hunter cat are from a motion activated night vision camera that we placed inside the rain gutter for five days and hoped for the shot — and amazingly got!”
Although there is no official count of Istanbul’s moggies, Torun estimates that it is in the millions. She notes, “Since Istanbul has been one of the centers of human migratory routes, it only makes sense that the cat population has been there as long as people have been. We spoke with a veterinary zoologist at the University of Istanbul who showed us the remains of a cat found at the bottom of the Bosphorus from 3,500 years ago. This cat had a break in his leg that could have only healed in the way it did if it was wrapped by a human, suggesting that people who lived in that region at the time had loving, caring relationships with cats.”
Torun and Wuppermann and their company Termite Films are now based in Los Angeles. Torun says,
“Making ‘Kedi,’ I learned how liberating making documentaries can be and how much you learn to be flexible and work with what you have. I do miss working with actors, so it looks like a narrative film will be next in line. I have a supernatural thriller in the works while I continue developing my next two documentaries; one revolving around Sufism, and the other featuring ’60s Turkish psychedelic rock. Apart from producing projects directed by me, Termite has a slate of films in the pipeline that combine the genre format with arthouse elements.”