Director Crystal Moselle (fifth from left) at the Sundance premiere with “The Wolfpack” boys and their mother. © Sundance Institute | Chris Evans
A stranger-than-fiction documentary, The Wolfpack reveals the almost unbelievable story of the Angulo family. They’re seven children—six brothers and one sister, all with waist-length black hair—who are being raised on welfare in a crowded, untidy apartment on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
The surprise here is that they weren’t allowed to leave for 17 years due to their Hare Krishna father’s fear of the outside world. Director Crystal Moselle’s film, which took home the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, isn’t a postmillennial Grey Gardens. Although the siblings are essentially shut-ins, they’re made aware of the world outside them through their intense love of movies.
I was walking down the street and I saw this boy with long hair run past me and something about him intrigued me. Then another ran past and then another.
Moselle began filming the boys in 2010 when they ranged in age from about 11 to 18. Articulate and likable, they’re being homeschooled by their mother (a hippie who grew up on a farm in the Midwest), but with no friends besides each other, the boys cope with their isolation by recreating their favorite movies, which include Batman movies and Quentin Tarantino films. Eventually, their curiosity about the outside demands satisfaction.
Moselle documents their attempts to ease into the city around them. She records their excitement at seeing their first film in a movie theater and their trepidation at stepping into the water while visiting a beach. Late in the film she introduces the boys’ father Oscar, but viewers never get a clear sense of what’s motivated him to hide his sons from the world. Moselle also doesn’t interview any of their neighbors or social workers (one of the teens is arrested, not for any wrongdoing but for freaking people while wandering the street dressed as Jason from Friday the 13th) to provide further insight.
Still, The Wolfpack offers an intriguing glimpse into the nature of establishing one’s identity and creativity with an introduction to one of the most unusual families you’re likely to meet, even if the film raises more questions than it satisfactorily answers. Perhaps sensing this, during the Q&A that followed the film’s January premiere in Park City, the moderator asked the audience to keep their questions positive so most focused on the craft of the film and the brothers’ home movies.
Moselle says she befriended the brothers during one of their earliest ventures away from their home. “I feel so honored to have met these boys in the street that day,” Moselle said. “I was walking down the street and I saw this boy with long hair run past me and something about him intrigued me,“ she recalled. “Then another ran past and then another.”
When Moselle approached them they told her they’re not supposed to talk to strangers. The boys were intrigued to learn that Moselle is a filmmaker and told her that they want to get into the business.
When the Angulo brothers took the stage at Sundance, their obsession with film was still evident as they were dressed in Reservoir Dogs-style black suits and sunglasses. The boys, who were enthusiastic discussing their home movie reenactments, also shared their current occupations, which include film production, activism and teaching yoga.