> AR Interviews
Hitting the Streets
Satya Interview with Eddie Lama
Eddie and friends. Photo by Kevin
Eddie Lama is a force of nature. A
Brooklyn native, he was the subject of the influential Tribe of Heart
documentary, The Witness, which detailed his awakening as an
animal advocate and the unique direction his activism took. Synthesizing
creativity with his innate street smarts, Eddie Lama developed
FaunaVision, the ultimate activist tool: a van retrofitted with large TV
screens, speakers and a scrolling message board—a mobile multi-media
advocacy center. Images of animal cruelty, combined with sound and text
explaining the content, are exposed to passersby on city streets, with
very effective results.
As the documentary so movingly reveals,
people truly respond to images, and animal activists—including People for
the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Compassion Over Killing, the Animal
Rights Foundation of Florida, and Last Chance for Animals—have caught on
to Eddie’s big screen gift.
Since its 2000 release, screenings of
The Witness have been held around the world by grassroots
activists, inspiring thousands to make meaningful connections with animals
and choose compassion in their lives. With rumors percolating that
Eddie Lama and the Fauna crew are getting ready to hit
the streets again, Catherine Clyne called on this urban
critter to give us the low down.
You grew up on the streets
of Brooklyn. What do you think is the most effective way to get through to
hardboiled New Yorkers about animal issues?
You’ve gotta show
‘em. Show them the big picture. New Yorkers have short attention spans and
don’t have time to read.
FaunaVision has revolutionized
animal advocacy by merging activism and creativity. Can you tell us about
some of the latest FaunaVision technology?
FaunaVision creation is a $140,000 technical, mobile, wonder—a large van
with TV screens. I like to call it the HMS-Bagel. HMS stands for His
Meow-Jesty’s Ship, and Bagel happens to be the cat who inspired me to
become vegetarian. He was the one. He died a little over a year ago, and I
miss him greatly. He was a big spirit and teacher in my life, which is why
I named this latest vehicle after him. I call it a mobile audio-video
How about the “Little Eddies”?
Little Eddies were born out of a need. FaunaVision, as wonderful, great,
majestic, and attention-getting as it is, is limited by its vehicular
essence in where it can go. You can’t really go into shopping malls or
Grand Central Station, and sometimes there is no place to park. So we
created what used to be called a Faunette, now we call it a Little Eddie.
[Laughs.] It has a two-sided head with 17” screens, a self-contained power
system at the base, and a stand which serves as the body. It looks like a
little robot, which is why they call it a Little Eddie. It carries the
message very well in those places where you can’t bring FaunaVision, the
I understand that the van hasn’t been out for a
while. Are there plans to get FaunaVision back on the
If I had to pick one thing that really inspires me,
that is really close to my heart, it would be pounding the streets of New
York with FaunaVision. Unfortunately, because of the atmosphere after
9/11, it was almost impossible to show on the street without getting
hassled and questioned—the van looks like a small nuclear device. I think
it is breaking a little bit, so we are going to try and go back out there.
Hopefully getting the message out will have the same impact. You have to
remember, at the advent of FaunaVision, mobile video units weren’t really
happening yet. Now you see subway station kiosks with videos. People
aren’t so shocked by it anymore, it isn’t a novelty. However, we still
bring it out to the people because you are not going see FaunaVision
footage on any subway kiosk.
What are some of the
campaigns FaunaVision will be tackling?
We do some campaigning
on spay/neuter, puppy mills—the atrocities du jour. But mainly we focus on
fur during the wintertime, and vegetarianism during the summer months.
However, I am thinking about showing fur footage in the summer too—people
do own fur coats year-round. I’m thinking people that wear fur may not be
so defensive in the summer and might actually stop and watch footage. They
may be intimidated to approach the vehicle when they are wearing fur, so
it kind of opens it up, makes it anonymous. FaunaVision is about educating
the public, so you don’t want their defenses to be up.
Tell me about the video footage that you use. Where do you
get some of that stuff?
Various sources. We’ve gotten some
from big organizations, small organizations, we’ve taken some of our own,
and we just compile it. We edit it together and attach a soundtrack, or
use the screams of the animals or voices of the abusers—it depends on the
impact you want to make. A lot of times we find music, which can be a good
tool to get into the hearts of people. Like at Christmastime, we placed a
choir of women singing “Silent Night” with the visual of anal
electrocutions on fur farms—the results were really spectacular. A lot of
people already have sentimental connections with the song and when they
see the visuals it is really effective. We have a new editing system that
will put FaunaVision clips together in a much more professional
way—smoother, better presentation and more tuned into the high-tech NY
How can New York activists help FaunaVision hit
For one, they can volunteer to go out with
FaunaVision. We definitely would like to get some dedicated, loyal people
that are tuned into street culture. It is not for everybody—some people
write, some people are involved in politics. But if you’re a street beat
person, come sign up. Usually no less than three people go on the
FaunaVision runs, and they usually last two to three hours. We like to go
to places with the potential for a lot of people, like train stations and
A lot of times people see us for the first time on
the street and want to know more, want to help. We connect them to other
organizations. We also give out pamphlets like Why Vegan? and other
material we think is good—we don’t care who gets the credit, we want the
animals to be helped.
I know you’re not crazy about taking
credit for things. Still, how do you think FaunaVision has influenced
Fortunately for the animals it has inspired
people to create their own gadgets and gizmos. Steve Hindi, for one,
created a larger than life—like himself—vehicle called “The Tiger Truck.”
It is great and really effective. Other organizations have looked to us
and our idea has caught on very well. Pictures do speak a thousand words
but a movie with sound is like a million words.
In this day and
age people are busy and they aren’t able to be active. To get 100 people
to a protest just doesn’t happen anymore. With FaunaVision you can make a
lot of noise with only three people. I always associate FaunaVision with
the rock band ZZ Top. The first time I heard ZZ Top I said, “Wow, that’s
great…that’s a lot of noise. There must be eight people in the band!” Then
I found out there are only three people! You can rattle a lot of cages
with just three people. Plus, you get a lot of credibility and respect
with this amazing floating advertisement coming down the street. High tech
people respect that it isn’t just a bunch of rag tag guys wearing burlap
and Birkenstocks and eating out of garbage cans.
interesting that you got so involved in visuals because from what I
recall, in The Witness you talked about making the connection between
Bagel the cat and a chicken leg on a plate—you saw a physical connection
with a friend of yours and a dead potential friend.
my ADD has served me well. A long lecture is really boring and not
effective for me. I happen to know a lot of New Yorkers have a very short
attention span. I have seen people step over bodies during protests to get
through to a Macy’s sale, so they are not easily stopped. You need to show
them something really powerful. It is kind of personal because it appeals
to my short attention span, my inability to grasp all this verbiage and
make sense of it. Here’s a poem, here’s a picture, here’s an animal
getting murdered in a heinous way—it takes only three seconds to watch an
animal get electrocuted. They get it.
Tell us about your
sanctuary Oasis and the kinds of critters who make their home
We are like many sanctuaries. I think our distinction
is that we have prey and predator: there are cats, dogs, pigs, chickens,
geese, parrots, raccoons, a lot of birds, deer. We have whatever finds us.
We can’t actively go out and look for animals, we would need nine giant
stadiums to fit them all. So we have a kind of spiritual endeavor, they
come into our lives and they come from all species.
Witness was the first real animal rights documentary—and with a ‘star’—and
thousands of people were moved by your story. How has your life changed
since the making and release of The Witness?
it’s not private anymore. That’s for one. But it has changed for the
better, mainly because I see that people are tuned in at many levels;
there is a great store of people who can relate to it. The negative part
is people see me as some larger than life guy, which I am not. And
sometimes people tend to give you more power than you have.
What lies in the future of FaunaVision?
of the same, we would like to branch out. But it’s not like FaunaVision
wants to be the biggest. We would like to help those that help. I think
that’s our strong point. We aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel. We would
like to encourage and create things for people so they can come to us for
advice, for technical expertise. And I want people to do something better
than FaunaVision. That’s the idea—we should be sharing what works. Once
you start thinking it’s my creation, it’s just not right. You can’t think
Just basically, help people try and seek opportunity, and
naturally, organically carry the message. I try to do that. It has got to
be talked about, it has got to be said, like if people ask you why you
don’t eat ice cream, tell them, and in detail—don’t be afraid. It might be
uncomfortable. But if you watch the images on FaunaVision, you’ll know how
uncomfortable the animals are. Keep on keeping that hope and continue
being a voice for the animals. And don’t scream at each other because the
important message gets compromised, diluted. I think there is a need to
have one voice. We have to turn this cacophony into a symphony.
To get involved with FaunaVision’s street activism or to learn
http://www.oasissanctuary.org/ or (212)