The Lyrical Elitist

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‘The Wolfpack’ Documentary Tells of 7 Children Shuttered from the World

wolfpack

When they were not being home schooled by their mother, the Angulo siblings were allowed to watch movies nonstop. Their story is told in “The Wolfpack,” directed by Crystal Moselle. Credit Crystal Moselle

It’s quite a tale: Seven children, all with waist-length hair, are raised on welfare in a messy four-bedroom apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. And they are almost never allowed to leave the house. For years.

Their father has the only key to the front door, and he keeps it locked. In some years, they are allowed outside only a handful of times. In others, not at all.

The kicker is that the story is true — and all but one of the children still live there.

“The Wolfpack,” making its premiere at theSundance Film Festival here on Sunday, is one of those truth-is-stranger-than-fiction documentaries that come along on the rare occasion a filmmaker happens to be in exactly the right place at exactly the right moment. In 2010, Crystal Moselle, the film’s director, bumped into six of the Angulo siblings — boys, then aged about 11 to 18 — on one of their rare trips outside and befriended them.

Eventually, they allowed her to bring a camera inside the apartment. “I was their first friend, and I think they were as fascinated by me as I was by them,” Ms. Moselle said. “Slowly their mom warmed up. The dad was definitely a roller coaster.”

Lending extra resonance to “The Wolfpack,” particularly at Sundance, is one detail in particular. When they were not being home schooled by their mother, the boys — Bhagavan, Govinda, Narayana, Mukunda, Krisna and Jagadesh — and their sister, Visnu, were allowed to watch movies nonstop, on DVDs bought at a discount or borrowed from the library.

Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan, David Lynch and Martin Scorsese gave them a window to the world (a warped one in some cases but a window nonetheless) and injected badly needed doses of creativity into their lonely, claustrophobic lives.

“It’s fascinating what the human spirit does when it’s confined,” Ms. Moselle said. “The downside to all the movies — and they have seen, like, 5,000 — is that there are certain formulas to them. Real life is different. In real life, the girl doesn’t always break your heart. The boys are still struggling to understand that.”

A representative for “The Wolfpack” said members of the Angulo family did not wish to be interviewed ahead of the Sundance premiere.

Reached independently by telephone, however, Mukunda Angulo, 20, said he had seen the film and that it accurately represented his family but declined to comment further. Susanne Angulo, the children’s mother, reached separately on her cellphone as she traveled to Sundance on Thursday (with at least a couple of her sons), gave a similar response.

“Yes,” she answered when asked if her children were kept inside to the severe degree “The Wolfpack” describes. “I probably should not comment further,” she added before ending the call. Efforts to reach the children’s father, Oscar Angulo, were unsuccessful; a number listed in Manhattan had been disconnected.

The documentary is being shopped to distributors by Josh Braun, a veteran sales agent whose company has worked on films like “The Cove” and “20 Feet From Stardom,” both of which won best documentary Oscars. The Tribeca Film Institute provided grant money and guidance to Ms. Moselle.

“Crystal’s work with the Angulo family demonstrates the intertwined, complicated and nuanced relationship between filmmaker and subject,” said Ryan Harrington, Tribeca’s vice president for artist programs. “The raw intimacy she is able to capture is a testament of the trust and bond she was able to establish.”

The Angulo siblings come across in “The Wolfpack” as articulate, sensitive and extremely likable. At times, whether lost in role play in the apartment or heaped in a pile on a mattress to watch television, they can also seem a bit feral. A few speak, at times, with a cadence that is slightly off kilter. They clearly love their mother, Susanne, who is presented as being controlled to the same degree that they are.

“There were more rules for me than there were for them,” Mrs. Angulo says quietly on camera.

Dad is more complicated. Ms. Moselle, 34, does not reveal him until about an hour into her 84-minute film and, even then, he speaks very briefly and doesn’t make much sense. A Peruvian immigrant and Hare Krishna devotee, Oscar Angulo is depicted as a paranoid man who struggles with alcohol. He believes his children will be “contaminated” if they are let into New York City.

“We wanted to tell the truth without making too many judgments,” Ms. Moselle said. “Believe me, I could have really gone off on the guy.”

She added: “The thing is, these brothers are some of the most gentle, insightful, curious people I’ve ever met. Something was clearly done right.”

The Angulo children, all of whom still live at home except for Govinda, 22, according to Ms. Moselle, are shown struggling with resentment toward their father. Narayana at one point says, “There are some things you just don’t forgive.” Later, he worries about “being so ignorant of the world that I won’t be able to handle it.”

Viewers are likely to wonder whether the children suffer psychological problems as a result of their unorthodox upbringing. “The Wolfpack” suggests the answer is yes but does not elaborate. The film does note that government agencies got involved in recent years — following a visit to the apartment from the police — and that the children, at least for a time, were treated by psychiatrists.

Ms. Moselle said she first met the brothers in 2010 as they walked “in a pack” down First Avenue. All of them were wearing black Ray-Ban sunglasses inspired by “Reservoir Dogs,” and their long hair was blowing in the wind. “I just started running after them to find out more and was instantly obsessed,” she said.

To divulge how the Angulos happened to be out of the house that day would move into spoiler territory. The Sundance programming guide does disclose that “everything changes when one of the brothers escapes and the power dynamics in the house are transformed.”

“The Wolfpack,” which features upbeat 1980s songs like Baltimora’s “Tarzan Boy,” is Ms. Moselle’s first time behind the camera on a feature film. She helped produce the 2005 documentary “Excavating Taylor Mead,” about the artist and Warhol acolyte, but her experience primarily comes from commercials and videos. She directed videos in 2009 for a series in The New York Times called “Something Big Something Small.”

“I am so lucky to have been on First Avenue that day at that precise moment,” she said. “I felt like I discovered a long-lost tribe from the Amazon.”

Source:
New York Times

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This entry was posted on January 24, 2015 by in Headlines, New York, U.S. and tagged , , , , , .

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