The Satya Interview with Eddie
Eddie and friends. Photo
by Kevin Lysaght
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?
The latest 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 spectacle.
How about the “Little Eddies”?
The 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 van.
I understand that the van hasn’t been out for a while. Are there
to get FaunaVision back on the streets?
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
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 culture.
How can New York activists help FaunaVision hit the streets?
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 movie lines.
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 animal activism?
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.
It’s 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.
I think 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
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
The 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?
My life, 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?
More 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 that
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 more, contact
www.oasissanctuary.org or (212) 459-4385.