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Isolated And Inside For Years, Brothers Lived Lives Through Cinema


Here's a story for the movies - six brothers grow up inside an apartment in Gotham - Lower Manhattan - and their parents keep them inside that apartment, homeschooling them and some years not letting them out at all. So in their isolation, the brothers watch thousands of movies and re-create the world they see.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As the Joker) You see, this is how crazy Batman's made Gotham. You want order in Gotham - Batman must take his mask off and turn himself in.

SIMON: That was one of the boys acting out a scene from "The Dark Knight." And now the brothers are stars of a documentary by Crystal Moselle. It's called "The Wolfpack." Crystal Moselle and one of the six brothers, Govinda Angulo, join us from our studios in New York. Thanks very much for being with us.

GOVINDA ANGULO: Thank you for having us.


SIMON: So, Crystal Moselle, you saw a group of guys walking down the street.

MOSELLE: Yeah, I was walking down First Avenue in New York City and this group of boys ran past me. They had long hair and sunglasses - all wearing black - and I ran after them. And we met up at a crosswalk and I asked them where they're from, and they said Delancey Street. And then Govinda asked me, he said so what is it that you do for a living? And I told him that I was a filmmaker, and it started a friendship between us where we would look at cameras together and, you know, talk about movies.

SIMON: And how did you find out the story?

MOSELLE: You know, just from spending time, and it happened very organically. I had the idea of doing a documentary on them that was just based on them, you know, making a short film. I'd do kind of like a little behind-the-scenes type of thing, but as the years went by, I uncovered a more complex story.

SIMON: Govinda Angulo, I apologize in advance if any of these questions sounds insensitive, but how did your parents keep such a large family essentially locked up all those years?

ANGULO: Well, first, my mother didn't really have a choice in - or didn't really have a say in that about our upbringing. It was more a decision that Dad made, and his choice was based on an idea that he just had a different outlook of the world. And he felt what he was doing was the right way to raise his children.

SIMON: And would you now call that abusive?

ANGULO: Abuse is not a word that I like to use around a lot. I feel that our situation was unusual and I don't feel that what he did was right, but we had all the freedom in the world with movies and Dad introduced us to that world. So I just always look on that side of our story and use that as a way of moving forward.

SIMON: Movies save you.

ANGULO: I believe they did save us because movies was ultimately the spirit that was just kindled throughout all the years.


ANGULO: All of us agree that "The Godfather" one and two is number one.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Number two for me is "JFK."

ANGULO: I agree.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Number three for me is "Gone With The Wind." I love "Gone With The Wind."

ANGULO: And "The Lord Of The Rings" - who doesn't like "The Lord Of The Rings?" So I put it four.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: What we have here is...

SIMON: Have to ask again, why didn't your mother just take you and leave?

ANGULO: When you have a family with this kind of unusual circumstance - this many kids - ultimately, you know, that's a question you'd have to ask her. And there is a strong love that she had for all of us and she felt, you know, that she had no power to make that decision and that was holding her back. There was a lot of pressure on her at the same time, and that's what ultimately makes her the real hero of this story is just the resilience she had and how she came out of it on the other side. And now she's the head of household.

SIMON: May I get you to tell us about the day your younger brother broke out, I guess, in 2010?

ANGULO: Mukunda one day just walked out on his own. He was wearing a Michael Myers mask. Again, this from all the props and the wardrobe that he passionately made himself. And it's ultimately a question you have for him, but it's, again, that fear of not knowing what - how to get back once you walk out and take those steps. It's a way that he would have this shield over him because this is something that we don't do every day.

SIMON: Yeah. Crystal Moselle, I have to ask you - what an astonishing real life human story to run into. Were you turn between wanting to make a film and wanting to help them? Is making the film helping them?

MOSELLE: Yeah. I was absolutely torn between that, but, you know, the boys - you know, we had some real talks about, like, you know, do you want to tell your story? And they all agreed that they wanted to tell it. But I think in the long run it has been helping. I mean, the first question that Govinda asked me was - or the first thing he said to me was that they wanted to get into the business of filmmaking. And here they are, like, making short films, and Govinda's actually an aspiring cinematographer and he just shot his first feature a few weeks ago.

SIMON: What kind of films do you want to make?

ANGULO: All kinds of films - crime drama, thrillers, sci-fis, screwball comedies - you name it.

SIMON: (Laughter) Well, that's very ambitious. That's good. And you and your brothers are still close.

ANGULO: Yep. Some of us are more passionate about film than others. The younger ones are moving more towards music. Bhagavan, the eldest of the group, he's a dancer. He's a performer, and Narayana's doing with this environmental group. Mukunda and I are just - more lean on the production side of filmmaking.

SIMON: Do you think, Govinda, that however those of us on the outside world might think the kind of childhood and adolescence you had was a terrible thing to go through, are there lessons that you can give us that that terrible circumstance taught you?

ANGULO: Don't be afraid of your imagination, I would say, and the human spirit is really a beautiful thing. And Mom showed that and she had that love for the entire family, which kept us all together. So I am hoping people will take that away from this story and not be afraid to make their first step of doing the fearful decision.

SIMON: Govinda Angulo is one of the stars. Crystal Moselle is the filmmaker behind the film "The Wolfpack," speaking with us from New York. Thank you both very much for being with us.

MOSELLE: Thank you.

ANGULO: Thank you.

SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.