Lonely Planet Writer

Follow the lives of Istanbul's famous street cats in this surprise hit documentary

Anyone who has visited Istanbul will be familiar with the hundreds of thousands of cats that roam the streets, making their home wherever they see fit. Now a new documentary follows the lives of seven different felines as they explore Turkey’s biggest city.

Yellow kittens in Istanbul
Yes, there will be kittens in this film. Image by Kedi

Kedi is a labour of love by Turkish film-maker Ceyda Torun who grew up in Istanbul and left when she was 11. Upon her return to the city, she found a place transformed by a huge growth in population and globalisation but one thing could be relied upon; the cats.

“They were the one constant element”, Torun says, “becoming synonymous with the city itself and ultimately, embodying its soul. This film is, in many ways, a love letter to those cats and the city, both of which are changing in ways that are unpredictable.”

The documentary follows seven cats, each with a different personality; the lover, the psycho, the hustler, the social butterfly, the player, the gentleman and the hunter. Using special ‘cat cameras’ and drones, they captured their individual stories as well as gorgeous cinematography of the city itself.

“I came to realise that my own stories of the street cats of Istanbul were not exclusive to me”, Torun states. “Everyone who had allowed themselves to form a meaningful relationship with these creatures had come to experience life and their part in it differently.”

Just one of the scenes from this documentary on Istanbul cats
A cat snoozes on top of an Istanbul awning. Image by Kedi

As well as love for the furry creatures, she hopes the movie might inspire some people to visit them for themselves. “Hopefully this film will be that experience for you, and that you’ll leave with a yearning in your hands to pet a cat, and visit Istanbul.”

Kedi has been a surprise box office hit and is available to watch in full now on YouTube Red or, for a more social experience, there are screenings across the USA. Colourful murals promoting the movie have also cropped up around New York.

Why are there so many cats in Istanbul?

History has been kind to cats in this city. Historians believe the locals have long taken care of the local cats because of their ability to fend off mice. Now, the love and care of felines is ingrained in the generations. Locals often leave food for them and they usually belong to the community as a whole, instead of one particular owner.

Cats are also highly respected in Islam, with many references to Muhammad’s love of cats throughout the history books. In one story, he is purported to bless cats with their famous ability to land on their feet.

A Turkish cats sits at a table.
Gamsiz is just one of the cats featured in Kedi. Image by Kedi

Turkey has made somewhat of a name for itself for its treatment of street cats. In Antalya, volunteers created an entire cat village with play areas and protection for approximately 100 cats. Eagle-eyed cat lovers in Istanbul can also find a statue of internet-famous cat Tomboli.