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A Remarkable Film On 6 Boys Who Finally Break Free After Years Of Being Locked Away

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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.

How did the parents take to being filmed? Were they worried at all about how they may have appeared, as their children had been in their apartment for so long?

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.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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