Editor’s Note: In an apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the six Angulo brothers have spent their entire lives locked away from society. Nicknamed “The Wolfpack,” they’re all exceedingly bright, are homeschooled, have no acquaintances outside their family and have practically never left their home. All they know of the outside world is gleaned from the films they watch obsessively and recreate meticulously, using elaborate homemade props and costumes. For years, this has served as a productive creative outlet and a way to stave off loneliness – but after one of the brothers escapes the apartment, the power dynamics in the house are transformed, and all the boys begin to dream of venturing out. A coming of age story and a true example of the power of movies to transform and save lives, the following is an interview with the director, Crystal Moselle.
This interview was originally published on the DIFF Blog, here.
How did you first meet the Angulos, and when did it develop that you would make a documentary about them?
About five years ago, I was cruising down First Avenue in the East Village and these kids with long hair ran past me, weaving through the crowd. I counted one, two, three of them.. then three more. My instinct took over, and I chased after them catching up at a stop light. I asked where they were from and they said “Delancy Street”. They mentioned how they were not supposed to talk to strangers but wondered what I did for a living. When I told them that I was a filmmaker, they got really excited, exclaiming, “we are interested in getting into the business of filmmaking.” We made a time to meet so I could show them some cameras. This was the start of our friendship. I started filming them here and there while teaching them and encouraging their film endeavors. About 4 months in, I was able to come into their home. This is when I realised there was a deeper story and continued from there – we’ve been shooting for 4 and a half years now.
How did the boys react to being filmed?
It was a roller coaster. I was dealing with adolescent boys, so I got all sorts of reactions. When we started, everybody was on board to shoot but it took years to get some of the tender moments where they really opened up. It wasn’t easy at times but dealing with teenagers, in general, isn’t easy; I’ve had experience with this age range before in other projects.
The parents were open to the idea of documenting their family – I feel like they saw an opportunity for their children. I’m not sure they realised how in-depth the project would get. I think there was some anxiety from each of them over the film, but they were always open and willing to film. Now that they have seen the movie there is nothing but positive enthusiasm for the project from both of them.
When filming, were you tempted to intervene in the boys’ lives in any way, or help them get out of their apartment?
When I came into these boys lives there was nothing that alarmed me about the situation. They seemed stable, well cared for and educated by their parents (especially their mother). If I had come one year earlier things may have been different. Also, at the point I came into the story the boys had started their rebellion against their father and the power in the household had shifted. They did not seem to need or desire for me to intervene. What I did do was to encourage them explore their interest in filmmaking, by helping them get internships and introduce them to people in the film industry.
It’s interesting to see what an advanced aesthetic the boys have in the movie for people who are so isolated – both in their movie taste and their personal style. How did they end up seeing so many movies and where did they develop their personal wardrobes to that extent?
The dad brought both classic and cult movies to them. They liked the violent, horrific, morally complicated films the best. As they read more about movies they started to request specific films. The boys first saw ‘Pulp Fiction’ on television, and this started their Quentin Tarantino obsession. It opened their eyes to film outside the realms of the standard Hollywood films they were used to watching. Since films were their world, they started to interpret these looks into their wardrobe. Their personal style is directly related to their favorite characters from their favorite movies. A lot of their early costumes were from clothing their dad would find on the street and at Salvation Army, which they would re-work by hand into specific costumes. For example, they’d tape blue Nike swooshes on tennis shoes to look like Marty McFly’s, or cut up a woman’s raincoat and sew it into the shape of Mad Max’s leather biker vest.
In the movie, the boys make an obvious progression, starting as very isolated characters but thrilled to learn more about the outside world. The mother seems to undergo a bit of a similar transformation – nervously testing her limits. How did she seem to progress from when you started shooting to when you ended?
Susanne feels like a different person to me now. When we first met she was more submissive and reserved. I think her children’s step towards freedom and socialisation really helped her stand up for her own rights as well. It’s a process but she is well on the right path to gaining her own independence.
In the film, we see the boys’ sister Vishnu, but we don’t hear too much about her. Can you tell us a little bit of her story? Why did you decide not to use much of it in the final film?
Visnu has Turner’s Syndrome, which is a genetic condition in which a female does not have the usual pair of two X chromosomes. She can’t communicate as well as the others, and the film really shaped up as the story about the brothers breaking free. She was, of course, a part of it and is very much a part of the family. They have a really wonderful relationship with her – they take her to the beach and include her in their Halloween festival every year.
Can you tell us a little bit about your filmmaking work aside from this film? Did any parts of this movie make it into other projects of yours?
I’ve been doing short form directing for many years. I have worked with Vice, New York Times and Nowness on several projects. I also shoot commercials and music videos. I did work with the boys on a project for Nowness called ‘Lightning People’ where I followed them around the city in a more artful way.
This interview was conducted by Magnolia Pictures.
The Wolfpack will have its India Premiere at the Dharamshala International Film Festival on Nov 6 at 1PM.