Five years ago, Crystal Moselle was walking down First Avenue in New York when six boys ran past her. Struck by their intriguing appearance, she chased them down the street, and introduced herself to what turned out to be the Angulo brothers, now ranging in age from 16 to 23. Moselle and the brothers bonded over their love of cinema, and she soon learned about their cache of home movies, in which they re-enact their favorite films with sets, props and costumes made from whatever was lying around — it turns out yoga mats make an effective Batman suit.
What she didn’t know when she initially decided to make a documentary about the sensitive and intelligent young men was their dark secret. “At first, I thought it would be this sweet little film about these kids making movies and figuring out how to get into the movie business,” Moselle says. That changed when she learned the brothers had lived virtually their entire lives locked inside a four-bedroom apartment on the Lower East Side at the insistence of their paranoid father, who also kept their mother confined.
Now, the whole story is documented in Moselle’s surprising documentary “The Wolfpack,” which won the docu grand jury prize when it premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The Magnolia release opens Friday and expands beyond New York on June 19.
When did you come to learn about the Angulos’ history?
I didn’t know their background for the first year. They started revealing little stories to me, and then Mukunda told me he had escaped the house once in a Michael Myers mask. That made me ask, “Why would you have to do that?” It made me realize the story was more complex than I thought.
Was it difficult to get the tone right, given the potentially disturbing subject?
At a certain point I said, “I’m going to tell this until the story feels inspiring.” But I think they have such a beautiful way of looking at life — (one) that I’d never seen before — and that’s what carried them through.
What was the family’s reaction to seeing the movie the first time?
It was extremely emotional, but they felt like it was an honest portrayal of their family. Even the father (to whom the boys no longer speak) said it was educational for him to see what his kids were thinking.
Was it a challenge to earn their trust?
They were very open to me because we have so many similar interests. I would say the biggest challenge was realizing the story was something completely different, and bringing that story out in the edit room. We had, like, 500 hours of footage.
Was there anything you couldn’t include in the final cut?
There was a great scene of them celebrating Quentin Tarantino’s birthday. They celebrate most of their idols’ birthdays because they didn’t celebrate Christmas or anything, so birthdays are a big deal.