Raised in Captivity in New York City: Meet ‘The Wolfpack,’ Six Brothers Saved By the Movies
The Angulo brothers were raised in captivity in a New York City apartment by their paranoid father. Now they’re free, and the subject of the riveting doc The Wolfpack.
The Wolfpack rolls deep. Werner Herzog deep.In their first trip to Los Angeles the six Angulo brothers—Bhagavan, Govinda, Narayana, Mukunda, Glenn, and Eddie—are on a whirlwind spree through Hollywood, a place they’d dreamed about while cooped up in a New York City apartment for most of their lives.“We’ve been referencing spots,” says Govinda, 22, addressing a rapt post-screening audience in L.A. “There’s Randy’s Donuts, there’s the Beverly Hills Cop station, there’s the bank that’s closed down from that scene from Michael Mann’s Heat, there’s the Myers’ house…”Five months after taking the Sundance Film Festival by storm and winning its Grand Jury Prize, the Wolfpack have opened in New York, met hero Robert De Niro, and appeared on Good Morning America. When I catch up with them in Hollywood on a June evening they’ve already toured Universal Studios and met heroes David O. Russell, William Friedkin, and Herzog, who later joins a throng of fans swarming the Angulos to recommend his own film The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser to two of the brothers.Movies, after all, are what taught the sheltered brothers about the outside world—the world their paranoid father Oscar was trying to protect them from, in his own way, when he locked them, mother Susanne, and younger sister Visnu in their four-room apartment and forbade them to leave.
Some years, the boys were allowed outside with their father a few times. “Some years we wouldn’t go out at all; 9/11 was one of those,” said Govinda. “We actually saw the towers fall from our apartment window. It scared the hell out of Dad and certainly freaked us out—we hadn’t seen anything like that except in the movies.”To cope with the isolation, the boys pored over movies and reenacted favorites like Pulp Fiction or The Dark Knight in painstaking detail, transcribing scripts by hand and crafting uncannily accurate costumes from household objects.It was purely by chance that filmmaker Crystal Moselle ran into the Wolfpack in 2010 on a New York City street. After a daring first jailbreak by Mukunda, the boys had become emboldened to defy their father and venture beyond the apartment door. Moselle chased them down during their first trip outside as a group, struck by the sight of six youngsters with waist-length black hair running around in Reservoir Dogs shades.They bonded with her over DSLRs and movie chat. Over the course of many months a friendship developed, and Moselle began filming the budding moviemakers before learning of their years trapped inside the apartment.“At first I was thinking it could be a behind-the-scenes of them making a short film,” Moselle said. “Then I uncovered a more complex story.”She learned how Mukunda had one day escaped the apartment to wander the city in a Michael Myers mask. He was promptly arrested, but the spell was broken.
The revelation of Mukunda’s life-changing act of defiance is one of many heart-stopping moments captured in the documentary The Wolfpack, which blends Moselle’s intimate observations inside the Angulo home with home videos and footage the boys shot themselves on Moselle’s borrowed cameras.Mukunda, now 20, works as a production assistant in film and writes and directs his own projects. As we stand in a green room with the Wolfpack’s lively entourage of friends, publicists, and the Vice documentary crew that’s shadowing their every move, he tells me he first realized he wanted to be a director by watching making-of features from The Dark Knight.“Christopher Nolan was the one who had the vision, and I was like, what is that? Director. That’s what I’ve been wanting to do all my life, be in charge of this big-visioned world,” he smiled.Open and communicative, it’s Mukunda who’s seen in the film directing an original short about a young man experiencing a range of emotions while staring through a window. Was that an intentional expression of your own experience? I ask.He pauses, thoughtfully. “I wasn’t aware of that, I think, until the day before we started shooting. I started to notice a lot of this had to do with isolation and breaking free, and when I was about to shoot it someone said, ‘You know, that kind of sounds like what you went through.’ That is kind of what it sounds like.”
Most people leave The Wolfpack with warm sympathy for the young men, unease for their father’s restrictive methods, and a lot of questions about their lives now. The power dynamic at home shifted considerably, the Angulos say, even as both parents have seen and signed off on the film. Mother Susanne now goes by her maiden name, Reisenbichler.“She has the final say in the family now, so she’s doing great,” said Narayana, 22, an aspiring filmmaker who works for a NYC nonprofit environmental advocacy group.Govinda, also 22, freelances in film and television as a camera operator and has a career as a cinematographer in his sights. Bhagavan, 23, discovered a passion for hip-hop dance while watching a friend breakdance and is now a yoga and dance instructor in New York.Meanwhile, the two youngest brothers reclaimed their names—Glenn Hughes Reisenbichler (Krsna) and Eddie Vaughn Reisenbichler (Jagadisa)—and have devoted their lives to music and played the Wolfpack’s Rock ’n’ Roll High School-themed premiere with Marky Ramone. “I’m into music. The ’80s,” said Eddie. “Rock and roll, that’s what I’m doing.”“People just love these boys,” notes Moselle, who is developing new projects with the Angulos through their newly formed Wolfpack Pictures production company. “They charm everybody, it’s amazing. Everyone just wants them to win and it’s so nice to watch that. They grew up with real repression, and now they’re seeing that the world is open.” What do you want the world to know about your life now? I ask Mukunda as the Wolfpack ambles across the theater to introduce another screening.“Two things,” he says. “If anything, I hope people take from this to never let your imagination die. Never stop being a kid. Keep being weird. If you are, that’s how you were born—just keep being yourself. Don’t let anyone hold you back. And second, don’t be afraid to take that next big step in your life. No matter how fearful or how worried you are about what might happen or what people might think of you, go through it. Break through it. It’ll all be fine in the end.”
Watch Mirror Heart, a new short film about giant cellphones, magical bumblebees, and an octopus whose paintings come to life by the Wolfpack produced by Vice Media.