The Angulo brothers spent their childhood locked away from the world, under the tyrannical rule of their father, unable to leave their New York City apartment.
It sounds like something out of a fairy tale – or a horror film. But that is the true story told in a new documentary, The Wolfpack, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on Sunday.
“Coming on the stage last night was extremely emotional,” director Crystal Moselle told the audience after a screening of the film on Monday. “Afterward, they all cried and hugged. We all got very close through this process. How could you not be?”
Moselle said it was a “collaborative effort” when she first began filming the six brothers – Baghavan, 23, twins Govinda and Narayana, 22, Mukunda, 20, Kirsna, 18, and Jagadesh, 17 – after a chance meeting on the streets of New York five years ago. “They’re very natural in front of the camera. They were born for this,” she adds.
A Nomadic Beginning
According to the filmmakers, the Angulo brothers’ Midwestern mother Suzanne met their Peruvian father Oscar in 1989, when he offered to be her tour guide around Machu Picchu. After traveling the world together, the couple went to live at a Hare Krishna center in West Virginia in 1990. That October, Suzanne gave birth to their only daughter, Visnu, who has special needs.
Three years and three sons later, the family picked up and traveled the country in a van, looking for opportunities for Oscar to become a rock star. Suzanne gave birth to their fourth son while they were living in the van in Los Angeles. They moved to New York City in 1995, according to the film’s press notes.
In the documentary, Oscar says his fear of gun violence and drug dealing around their Lower East Side apartment led him to forbid his wife and children to leave without him.
The brothers say they were allowed outside only a handful of times each year for 13 years – sometimes going a full 12 months without stepping out of their New York City Housing Authority home.
Their Adventure Begins
Growing up homeschooled by their mother and with little access to the outside world, the brothers say they were raised watching thousands of movies.
“Whenever we heard about a movie, we would ask for it,” Mukunda told the Sundance audience after the screening. “We asked for tons, and he would bring them over.”
Because the family was living on welfare, the brothers did not have a lot of spending money, but they made the most of what they had.
The film documents the brothers transcribing the scripts of their favorite movies (The Godfather and The Godfather Part II are at the top their list) and re-enacting their favorite scenes with props like the guns from Reservoir Dogs or Batman’s armor made from recycled cereal boxes.
But as they got older, the outside world became more and more tantalizing. And in January 2010, at age 15, Mukunda says he decided to “break out” of the “prison” of their apartment.
“The best word I can come up with is that it’s more ‘real,’ ” Mukunda told PEOPLE of exploring New York on his own for the first time. “It’s not as magical [as the movies].”
Mukunda wore a Michael Myers Halloween mask in case his father recognized him on the street, and says he was ultimately apprehended by the police and taken to a mental hospital for some time.
Once back at home, he says he felt liberated from his father’s rule, and by April 2010 he was leading all of his brothers out as a group.
“I was amazed at how nice everybody was,” Govinda told PEOPLE. “We were raised to think otherwise.”
The Wolfpack Is Born
One of the nice people the boys met was Moselle, who said her “instincts” led her to first interacting with the brothers.
“Jagadesh cruised by me with his long hair, and then all six of them ran past,” said Moselle, adding that a friend was the first to refer to them as a wolfpack. “I don’t know why, but I just ran after them. We met up at a crosswalk. Govinda asked what I did for a living. I said, ‘I’m a filmmaker.’ And he said, ‘Oh, we’re interested in getting into the business of filmmaking.’ So I started showing them cameras in the park.”
Moselle spent the first two years of their friendship just filming the brothers around the city and then in their apartment before she began interviewing them for the documentary.
“Crystal really did a great job telling the whole story in an hour an a half. It’s magical,” said Mukunda, who attended Sundance with all his brothers. “This is the fourth time I’ve seen it, and I’m still not tired of it.”
The brothers said Oscar stayed home to care for their sister in New York, but Suzanne – who is seen in the documentary making contact with her own mother for the first time in decades – also made it out to Park City, Utah, for the film’s premiere.
“She loves the movie as much as we do,” said Mukunda, before Narayana called Suzanne to the front of the auditorium.
All of the brothers say they have varying degrees of interest in filmmaking and music, but Govinda is the only one who had actually moved out of their parents’ apartment.
“I want to get out of New York City and live in a shack in the middle of the woods where nobody could find me,” said Narayana. “Not that I dream of living in solitude like we used to. I like being around people, but I’m into nature.”