Kedi is Turkish for "cat," and this documentary of the same name spends roughly 80 minutes examining the feline population of Istanbul. We are told the cats have roamed the streets of this city through the rise and fall of several empires, making these people's love of the animals an ancient tradition. At the Seattle International Film Festival screening I attended, director Ceyda Torun revealed that this was whittled down from about 180 hours of footage. There was a lot of cats to film during their two months of shooting.
You can imagine how dull most of that footage must be. Lots of cats just grooming themselves, Torun said. The editing is fairly impressive, as nothing onscreen is wasted. At least not for cat lovers, anyway.
It is a bit of a technical achievement. It was not hard to find cats to shoot. One does wonder about the bias inherent here; Torun, who spent the first 11 years of her life in Istanbul and therefore with countless street cats as friends, would clearly never say that the city is overrun with stray cats. Presumably it's not hard to find people who would. Torun mentioned in her post-screening Q&A that every time the city tries to "clean up" the cat population, hundreds of thousands take to the streets in protest. I wish there were more of that kind of information in the film, but Torun says her intent was to create a portrait of the cats and keep politics out of it as much as possible. I would venture to say a deeper examination of the politics would have made the film more objectively interesting.
Still, she finds several cats and gets many memorable shots following them around the city streets. A mother cat stalks the streets and begs for scraps from restaurant diners, who typically oblige. She eats her own fill and then carries a large chunk of bread in her mouth that she brings back to her litter of kittens.
We meet many of the people of Istanbul who tend to these strays. They seem to have the philosophy that locking cats up inside houses is cruel (my more Western perspective is to feel the reverse is true). So they develop these relationships with particular cats that stick with them. They ascribe meaning to the relationships even though it's likely just a matter of the cat having a known reliable food source. And several of these people go above and beyond for the cats, with more than one person shown feeding actual packs of cats. In one case a woman even cooks them a bowl of pasta with shredded tuna. These are stray cats and they're getting fed better than any human beggar would tend to get.
There's not much more to Kedi than this. Torun is clearly proud of her birth city and the love its people have for the cats there, but ultimately the film is just a series of superficial portraits of select people, and a bunch of cats. I found myself longing for more depth. A great many of the cats shown are indeed adorable, though, and for many cat lovers coming to this movie for that reason alone, it'll be more than enough.