The Witness tells the story of Eddie Lama and
how he went from Brooklyn-born
construction contractor to animal rights crusader.
Part biography, part advocacy piece,
the 45 minute film seeks to put a down-to-earth face
on a philosophy that is too often
portrayed in the media as the domain of extremists and
ideologues. While Eddie is a
terrific spokesperson for his cause, the film doesn't
succeed at all of its
Eddie grew up in a typical Brooklyn neighborhood for
his era, surrounded by tough guys
and their families. The idea of empathizing with
animals was foreign to him as his
parents never had pets and looked down on the idea.
Eddie recalls seeing kids chasing
stray cats down alleys with "intent to do harm,"
although he never hurt any animals
himself. He seems thankful for this fact; I
sense that the guilt he would carry
if he had would be too much for him to bear.
His connection to animals developed later in life,
when a woman asked him to cat-sit.
Hoping to use this as an opportunity to get closer to
her, Eddie accepted, even though
he knew nothing about cats and the idea of a cat in
his pristine home would normally
have repulsed him. He discovered that what he
previously (and coldly) thought of as an
"ambulatory organism" was actually an individual with
preferences and dislikes and a
desire to communicate with him. This revelation led
Eddie to eventually give up eating
meat and go on a mission to disseminate information on
the horrors of the fur
The strange thing about The Witness is that it doesn't dig deep enough. Eddie is a compelling guy, but he
still seems like a guy who just met some cats that he liked and decided to fight for animals. There's no real big "story"
to his development. And at under an hour, the film doesn't spend enough time with the work that he does do to really
flesh it out.
There are many more animal rights crusaders in Eddie's area - and around the country - who have made
fighting against cruelty their life's goal for a lot longer than Eddie. The Witness doesn't give a good
enough understanding of why this guy should be the subject of the film.
The one thing that he does that's unique is
drive a van around Manhattan that he had fitted with TV monitors showing the grisly behind-the-scenes story of the
fur industry to random passers-by. But the film is satisfied with showing a slow-motion montage of horrified
onlookers set to Sarah McLaughlin music rather than actually engage the public and understand what their opinions
on fur are and how Eddie might or might not change them. After all, Eddie says that "a miracle is a
change in perception," but the film doesn't explore any miracles other than Eddie's own development.
The fur and meat industry footage used in the film, however, is potent. This is disturbing, horrific imagery that
really packs a wallop.
If the film were seen my people who weren't already interested in animal welfare
(unlikely) and if it explored the issues in greater depth, I think that it could actually change some people's feelings.
But this is probably a case of preaching to the choir, to some extent. (It might be tough for this reviewer to
judge, as someone who, like Eddie, has sworn off all meat products.) Eddie's explanation of his own reaction to
first seeing the undercover slaughterhouse footage is quite telling: Given his Catholic background, he tried to
rationalize out what sort of sins the animals must have committed to be tortured so terribly. He also compares their meaningless plight a
situation from his own life (being beaten severely in a mugging) when he felt like the animals in the
slaughterhouse: Capable only of screaming and screaming, but with no one to hear his cries. Eddie's words are
affecting and very human.
Possibly the moment that best tells Eddie's story, however, is a quiet scene where he sits and talks about the bond
between a human and a cat. His pudgy calico rests her head on his lap and sleeps while Eddie marvels at the trust
she has in him.
The full-screen video looks good. There is little visible compression and the imagery, while obviously shot on the
move, is clear.
The stereo audio is good. Eddie's voice is clear and easily understood.
A host of PSAs and other video clips about animal issues are included, many available on loop, presumably in case
viewers would like to create their own advocacy presentation. Most of the footage, however, is similar to what's seen in the film.
Eddie Lama's distress over the meat and fur industries and the public's general lack of understanding and sympathy
for animals is what makes The Witness compelling. That he comes off as a regular guy and not some
in-your-face eco-terrorist or something like that should make him accessible to more people. Even so, the
documentary around him doesn't really explore Eddie and the issues that he is so passionate about fully. Regardless,
The Witness is worth a look, both as an educational tool and for the curious.