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A&E Film Fest SCAD

Director Ceyda Torun talks cats and cameras after ‘Kedi’ screening

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The title of the film “Kedi” translates to “cat” in Turkish, which makes it easy to see why director Ceyda Torun chose the name for her documentary about street cats in Istanbul. Torun spoke after an afternoon screening of “Kedi” at the Lucas Theater the first day of the 2017 SCAD Savannah Film Festival, Saturday, Oct. 28.

Dedicated to the cats of Istanbul and the Istanbulites who care for the city’s animals, “Kedi” follows the daily lives of multiple cats with distinct personalities. “Kedi” marks Torun’s directorial debut, and to capture the perspective of cats wandering throughout Istanbul, from marketplaces to marinas, Torun said she worked closely with her director of photography and co-producer Charlie Wuppermann.

“I did prioritize the cats over the people, funny enough, because there were a lot of people that we interviewed for each cat that did not make it into the film,” Torun said.

The film’s notable cinematography features aerial shots of the city and how the cats navigate its nooks and crannies. Torun said Wuppermann not only had an eye for the type of aesthetic she wanted but also had a “feline presence,” as Torun said, which put the cats at ease during the filming process.

“We toyed with a lot of different rigs,” Torun said. “We had remote-controlled cars that we had fitted with cameras that the cats absolutely hated. We had tailored-made little vests with tiny little cameras that the cats would put on. Then they put them on and they’d just sit there and they wouldn’t move. Of course we realized if they go, that’s the end of that camera. So we gave up and we stuck to our two Canon 5D Mark III’s and they were incognito enough that people didn’t hassle us about it and the cats seemed to love the big lenses. The go-pro with the drone we got all the aerial stuff which was really key to me because cats also live a lot on the rooftops.”

Because none of the cats had a permanent “master,” Torun said she and Wuppermann avoided manipulating them to get the footage they wanted. Torun demonstrated how she beckoned the cats with a short, high-pitched whisper, which many Istanbul locals also use to call cats.

“The harder part was for them to stay put, because we’d get ready for a perfect shot and then he would just get up and sit on our laps,” Torun said. “That was challenging, but there were a couple of cats like the cat towards the end of the film who’s walking on the ledge of the rooftop in front of the sunset. He did that six times. We had a lot of those moments where we thought it was a cosmic joke.”

Torun herself does not appear in the film but her voice can be heard off-camera twice when she interacts with the film’s human characters. When asked if she ever considered putting herself in the film, Torun said that for the particular story she was trying to tell, it would not have been right to do so.

“I wanted to spend as much time with the cats and the focus to be on the cats as much as possible,” Torun said. “I don’t think we get to see them from their own perspective so much, and I wanted to use the human elements simply to give us backstory and inform us of that stuff and the reflections that we can have from sharing the same space with cats.”

Born and raised in Istanbul until she was 11, Torun said she was familiar with the city’s cats because she spent much of her time outdoors. She said she even befriended a cat in the same manner as the humans in her film.

“Because of my generation, kids my age, we spent a lot of time outdoors,” Torun said. “So my entertainment was climbing trees and hanging out with cats, and I really consider myself so lucky for this. There is one cat that came into my life when I was about 6 and I named her a very boring name like Buttons. She hung out for six years with me, and she was really truly my best friend, which is a fact now I can proudly share which before I might have been embarrassed to.”

“Kedi” was picked up by Oscilloscope Laboratories, an independent film company and distributor. Addressing aspiring filmmakers, Torun emphasized the significance of getting a film in front of an audience, because that is when filmmakers learn who has an interest in seeing the final product.

“You don’t have that until you have a festival environment and a lot of the future of the film is determined by the business end of things and thinking about it in a business fashion,” Torun said. “It could almost be the end of the life of your film and in many ways the festivals are is the only place that you can achieve that, especially as a first-time filmmaker who has no history of any other film with a subject matter that is possibly alien. It’s incredibly important.”

Fans of “Kedi” are already asking Torun about the possibility of a sequel. Torun said she could possibly make ten versions of the film.

“I would love to do a series around the world with different animals in different cities,” Torun said. “I love all animals. I’m not just a lover of cats, but cats are of course very unique. But to be able to understand how we behave or how we live our lives through reflections with other animals I think is really significant.”

Audiences can view “Kedi” in select theaters across the country and follow the film’s release on Twitter.

Written by Emilie Kefalas.

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