by director Ceyda Torun
When I was six years old, I had a fateful encounter with a female cat in the back yard of our apartment building in Istanbul, who decided I was an agreeable human to adopt and allowed me to witness her many adventures, mishaps and tragedies, including the care of the twenty-two kittens she bore over the years. I’m proud to admit that they were my best friends and I didn’t realize the uniqueness of that friendship until I began to live in other cities around the world.
I have been fascinated with how we transitioned from being free-roaming hunter-gatherers to farmers who built villages, towns, cities and metropolises. As I explored more about our relationship with cats, the more I became aware of how they have been by our side during this entire journey we’ve had as a species, traveling to far corners of the world. Istanbul, being the bridge between Asia and Europe, situated on the great Silk Road, and a merchant’s town with a massive harbor, has always been visited and influenced by people of many different cultures. And with those people, cats travelled too, and some, like their human counterparts, decided to stay.
It was because of the idea that cats have witnessed the many lives of Istanbul—the many empires that ruled it, the many different people who inhabited it—that I began to see them as an omnipresent force, a perfect lens through which to document the city and its people.
This is my first documentary and I was constantly searching for the bigger themes to portray, and it took me some time in the editing room to realize that there was a big theme right in front of me, it was subtle and on an emotional level. This film is about our relationship with nature, our dependence on nature as our surroundings grow more urban, and how universal our concerns and needs are, no matter where we live. For many in Istanbul, cats are the only chance to stop and take a breath; a breath that resets the nerves and recalibrates.
It’s impossible to describe with words how it feels to spend time with Istanbul’s street cats, but a movie with all its layers can get you pretty close. I hope watching this film makes you feel like you’ve had an Istanbul street cat snuggle up on your lap and purr endlessly, forcing you by the sheer fact that you can’t move without letting go of that softness and warmth, to ponder things that you may not have given yourself time to think about in the busy life you lead.