Film

Crystal Moselle: "Popular culture is a universal language everybody speaks"

The Wolfpack director Crystal Moselle on the chance encounter that led to her must-see documentary about the Angulo brothers

Your documentary The Wolfpack, which explores the life of the Angulo brothers, is one of the most talked-about films of the year. What makes their story unique?

They grew up in New York City, locked away from society. They didn’t have friends and their only window to the world was movies. That was their way of seeing life outside. Eventually they watched so many films they got inspired to re-enact them. That was their way to escape.

What picture did they have of the world if it was only informed by Hollywood films?

They thought the world was like Taxi Driver – this mean, scary, frightening world.

Their father prohibited them from leaving their apartment. Is that because he believed the world was like that?

Yeah. New York City at this point is one of the safest cities in the world but there was just these assumptions… their father had cut them off. Music and film became their main influence. When I met them everything they said was a reference to a film. It still is. That was their childhood.

Theirs is an extreme example but are all of our identities informed in part by the popular culture we consume?

It’s a universal language that everybody speaks. Everything’s a reference to something else. Even if the brothers were cut off from everyone else, that is their connection to everyone else.

How did you meet them in the first place and decide to film their lives? They started making excursions outside. They ran past me and there was something about them that intrigued me. I instinctively ran after them. I asked them who they were, where they came from, and they said a couple of blocks away. Then I asked them if they were all brothers, and they said yes. Then they asked what I did for a living. I said I was a film-maker and they all got very excited and said: “We’re interested in getting into the business of film-making.”

Do you often instinctively run after people who might make good documentary subjects? No, never have. We started being friends and this eventually led to this complex story that I didn’t expect to find. But at first I was just drawn to them as people. They weren’t jaded like every New Yorker that you have contact with.

You were the first outsider they invited into their apartment. How big was it? The apartment has four bedrooms with a big living room and two bathrooms.

They were effectively prisoners growing up but they do not seem to see their upbringing as a negative experience. Yeah. I think they loved being home-schooled. They love their mother and they love movies. Obviously something was working, look at them now?

How have their lives changed since the film and since learning to live normal lives? They have jobs and friends and they’re doing their own thing. Govinda, the second oldest, is an aspiring cinematographer; Mukunda works at a production company and they have all just made a hilarious mash-up re-enactment of Dirty Harry and Mrs Doubtfire. Being in the public eye has certainly been a change. But they love it. I think they were born for this. They’re performers.

The Wolfpack is in cinemas now

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