The secret lives of Istanbul's stray cats


A tomcat with poise and prowess

Not every street cat in Istanbul has the nonchalance to resist a tempting treat laid out on a table, but Aslan Parcasi, "the hunter," is one of the few. He keeps his territory free from rats and a watchful eye on each intruder. Aslan also scouts out possible sources for his daily meal. He is lucky to live in Istanbul: People here feed their city's cats voluntarily - and not only with garbage.


Hidden sleeping places

Ceyda Torun and cameraman Charlie Wuppermann spent three months crisscrossing the various districts of Istanbul in order to locate possible feline protagonists for their film. More than once, a random second glance led them to discover a future four-legged star - like this cat snoozing on a restaurant marquee. The duo then needed time and patience to build up trust with its involuntary actors.


Street tiger

Millions of stray cats make their homes in the streets and plazas of the Istanbul metropolis, and many of them don't roam beyond their precisely defined territory. But despite cherishing their independence, the cats often nuture relationships with people, becoming their loyal companions. They will even let humans stroke and cuddle them - all for a yummy snack, of course.


Territorial battles

A softly purring cat sleeping in the sun may turn suddenly into a street fighter when forced to defend its territory. Food tends to be the main bone of contention. A cat will ferociously defend a place where it knows it can count on a daily meal from human hands. Cat mothers, in particular, can be very aggressive when food for their babies is at stake.


Kittens face a tough life

Not all kittens in Istanbul are so lucky as to grow up with the security of a roof over their heads. In fact, many of them don't even survive the struggle for existence that plays out among wild street cats. The documentary doesn't shield viewers from the sadder side of feline lives in Istanbul: A newborn tomcat falls victim to the dominant cat in the neighborhood.


Sunset through the eyes of a cat

Director Ceyda Torun and cameraman Charlie Wuppermann captured their most beautiful shots in the early morning or early evening hours. These include glowing sunsets that tint the Bosporus with gold. In this way, "Kedi" also documents the city of Istanbul, showing it a totally different light from the perspective of a cat.



Istanbul could just as well be called "Catstanbul." In their quiet and soft way, countless street cats shape the image of the city that is home to some 20 million people. Ceyda Torun's documentary illustrates what it means to be a four-pawed inhabitant of this bustling metropolis. This visually arresting, poetic and yet realistic work hits movie theaters worldwide in August.

Everyday thousands of cats roam the plazas and alleyways of Istanbul. The city belongs to them, but they belong to nobody. The new documentary film "Kedi" is a cinematic love letter to the wild street animals.

The most endearing cat in this entertaining documentary film is Duman, the Gentleman. Gray and white stripes, green eyes, a ring encircling his neck, a little chubby around the hips - such is the description in the filmmaker's casting notes. "Profession: gourmand." A street cat with markedly refined manners.

Only when ravenous does he raid a trash container. Yet he can stay poised for minutes in front of a cleared restaurant table without placing the a paws on its surface.

He lives in one of the most elegant districts of Istanbul, but he never begs. That would be beneath his feline values. His allies are the owners of expensive gourmet restaurants. All the waiters know him here.

When his hunger has been piqued from long meanderings through the bustling metropolis, all he has to do is give a little scratch on an establishment's door and wait until his meal is placed before him on the cobblestones. Smoked fish and cheese are his preferred dishes.

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Middle East | 03.11.2015

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Thousands of stray cats live in Istanbul

A glimpse into the secret world of cats

Together with her husband and co-producer Charlie Wuppermann, the young director Ceyda Torun filmed a documentary that refreshes the heart. "Kedi" (Turkish for "cat"), her first solo movie, is a Turkish-American coproduction. It launches in movie theaters on August 8, International Cat Day, and promises to turn each viewer into a cinematic kitty lover in mere seconds.

You can't escape the magic of Charlie Wuppermann's camera work with its animal empathy, accompanied by Kira Fontana's Eastern-influenced film music. The editorial sequence tells the stories that life writes. 

For the first time, you can discover a city like Istanbul from the perspective of a street cat. Totally new points of view open up, just 10, maybe 15 centimeters above the ground - far from the beaten tourist path.


Documentary director Ceyda Torun grew up with street cats as her companions

That's why the film team spent three months roaming the city of two million inhabitants and its bordering suburbs, constantly on the hunt for cat stories, Ceyda Torun said in a Skype interview with DW. "We talked to people everywhere in the area who have something to do with cats on the street. And we asked them about their relationships to these cats."

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Cats don't follow a script

Until then, cameraman Charlie Wuppermann had never filmed a documentary. The time-intensive film work also posed a special challenge for the German co-producers: Cats don't follow any script. They just do whatever comes into their feline heads in that moment.

"At first we had picked out 35 cats as protagonists for the film," director Ceyda Torun explained. "But once we wanted to begin filming, we could only find 19. The others just didn't reappear."

It was exciting, Wuppermann said. "Our method was that we followed the cats and took on their perspectives. To achieve that, we worked simultaneously with multiple cameras and primarily with a remote-controlled camera on a mobile base, so we could follow the cats to places that humans couldn't go."

The cameraman had success in getting extraordinary insight into the daily world of stray cats. He was even able to capture the adrenaline-packed hunt for a fat canal rat by using a night vision camera.


A stray feline in Istanbul finds a comfy bed above the city's hustle and bustle

It takes more than just beauty

But cats don't let themselves be manipulated, especially not wild, headstrong stray cats, laughed Wuppermann, who did his master's at the London Film School. "We totally failed trying to secure microchip cameras to the cats. They didn't like that at all. And in documentary hindsight, that would have also been too manipulative."

Some cats also reacted aggressively to the remote-controlled camera, Wuppermann added, attacking them with their claws before running off.

The film work that crisscrossed Istanbul took on the appearance of a crime hunt for traces of the four-footed protagonists, director Torun said. She spent her childhood in Istanbul with just such stray cats. "They were my teachers and my companions. And my best friends."

When she was 11-years-old, the family left Turkey, living first in Amman, Jordan, and eventually in New York. She rarely ever came across a street cat there, said the filmmaker. It is rather the domesticated house cat that belongs to daily culture.


Thousands of stray cats live in Istanbul

The small tiger inside every cat

The movie is much more than an entertaining cat video. It accompanies seven pedestrians with paws, each one armed with claws and a highly individual character, through their daily life in the mega-city. As a documentary film, it tells the tale of the profound relationship that humans have with cats and serves as a mirror to society.

Street cats like the ones you find in Rome and Istanbul are unthinkable in the United States or Asia simply for hygienic reasons, Ceyda Torun said.

Read more: Plan to deport strays ignites cat fight on social media

The anthropologist by training explained how relevant archaeological excavations in Istanbul have shown that cats have been living there for more than 3,500 years. "When you are sitting on a park bench somewhere in Istanbul, a cat usually comes by, asking to be petted, just as if you had known it forever. You spend an hour with it; it's very familiar. And then, each one goes his own way."

The four-footed film stars were also the film team's teachers this time around, Charlie Wuppermann said. "We have worked frequently with telephoto lenses. And when you look from close up into the eyes of a cat, you could also take it for a tiger."

After film worked wrapped up, Torun's favorite cat was definitely the cuddly Bengü, with her checkered gray and brown coat and emerald-green eyes. "She also ran up to us right away when we called her. I love cats that greet you and lovingly purr their way around your legs."

The documentary film "Kedi" (USA/Turkey 2016) opens on August 10, 2017, in cinemas across the globe and is released on DVD. More info:


A street cat in Istanbul takes in the sunset over the Bosphorus at the end of a long day