Locked away in an apartment in downtown New York City was a story waiting to be told. The six Angulo brothers—Bhagavan, Govinda, Narayana, Mukunda, Krsna, and Jagadisa—were kept inside their whole lives by a father who feared that outside influences would corrupt his sons.
But in an ironic twist, the boys’ isolated adolescence is what led them to the public spotlight at the Sundance Film Festival, where the documentary about their unusual upbringing, The Wolfpack, won the Grand Jury Prize.
The project began in 2010 with a chance encounter between first-time director Crystal Moselle and the boys. “I was walking down First Avenue in New York City, and I saw this kid run past me,” Moselle says. “He had long hair, and something about him caught my eye. Then another one ran past me, and another. I just instinctively ran after them.”
At the time the brothers had been venturing outside for only a week, emboldened after Mukunda, 20, had escaped the apartment wearing a Michael Myers mask (and drew police attention) months earlier. Reluctant to speak at first, the Angulos returned Moselle’s interest once they learned she was a filmmaker. Growing up, the brothers had obsessively watched and reenacted movies as a creative outlet.
Knowing little about their home life, Moselle first sought to chronicle their film remakes, but soon the Angulos began opening up about their often-harrowing childhood. “It started out as a friendship and teaching us a little bit about the cameras, teaching us about shooting,” Mukunda says. “And she would interview us as well, if we were comfortable with it. We’d say, ‘Sure, why not?’ ”
With any story about captivity, an audience generally expects a monstrous villain—in this case, the boys’ father Oscar—but Moselle didn’t want to give into expectation. “I think their dad saw opportunities for his children by meeting me,” she says. “Everybody was like, ‘He needs to be more of a villain’ when we were in the editing process. But that’s not what the situation is…. It’s not just black and white.”
As Moselle became more entrenched in the lives of the Angulo family, the boys began taking on a bigger role in the filmmaking process, using the technical skills the director taught them to capture moments for which she wasn’t there. The brothers would surprise Moselle with—using her word—presents in the form of memory cards, one of which contained one of the film’s most emotional moments, a first phone call in decades between their mother, Susanne Angulo, and her mother. “Of course, that was the best present of all,” Moselle says.
Since Moselle followed the Angulos for four and a half years, the making of the film and the boys’ coming-of-age are inextricably linked. “That was a time when we just broke out,” says Govinda, 22, now a camera operator. “I think we were growing, and Crystal was evolving as a filmmaker. We both kind of needed each other.”