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[whitespace] Creature Feature

Documentary about the fur industry makes its case with gruesome imagery

By Richard von Busack

EDDIE LAMA is a gentle, large-hearted fellow with a strong case of guilt. As seen in the short documentary, The Witness, he's a building contractor in New York. Late in life, a friendship with a kitten opened his heart to animals. From there, Lama became a cat fancier and vegetarian. Finally he was exposed to videos that proved the viciousness of the fur industry, and he's been fighting the fur traders ever since.

At the core of The Witness are the kinds of undercover films Lama saw, which expose how a live animal becomes a coat. The extreme cruelty of leg-hold traps is fairly well known; as we see here, the tale of how trapped animals chew their legs off isn't fiction. And, as the The Witness graphically depicts, fur ranching can be far worse.

Lama buttresses his case against the trappers and ranchers--as if he needed to!--with anecdotes about his own love of cats. I'm sickeningly foolish for those animals myself; not everyone may be as swoony. Lama even imagines out loud how terrible it would be if his felines knew that he used to eat chicken, one of their fellow animals. Oh, I think they'd understand. After much reflection, and with heavy hearts, most cats seem to overcome any mixed feelings they might have about eating meat.

At the end of The Witness, Lama is spreading the word, displaying his cruelty videos from a television-equipped van patrolling the shopping districts in Manhattan; we see shock and grief on the faces of the passersby. Children are enlisted as witnesses also--did they need to be? Lama didn't have to convince me; anyway, I'm too poor for fur. Still, I would have liked to hear some alternatives. Is there a way to raise animals for fur while treating them humanely--just as there are ways to get eggs, milk and even meat with some consideration of the animals' feelings? There's no halfway point here discussed, which shows how emotionally committed Lama is, and how The Witness is, finally, mostly preaching to the converted.

The Witness (Unrated; 43 min.), directed by James LaVeck and Jenny Stein plays at the Nickelodeon on Saturday only at 11am, with a post-film discussion led by John Robbins, author of A Diet for a New America.

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From the May 9-16, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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