Animal Protection > AR Interviews

Hitting the Streets
The Satya Interview with Eddie Lama

Eddie Lama. Photo by Kevin Lysaght
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 plans 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 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 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 get it.

Tell us about your sanctuary Oasis and the kinds of critters who make their home there.

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.

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 way.

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 or (212) 459-4385.