Inside six boys' eccentric upbringing and how they coped

By Jessica Fecteau
Updated June 10, 2015 04:45 PM
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Credit: Courtesy Magnolia Pictures

Barred from living a normal life, six brothers and their younger sister spent months, and sometimes years, inside their four-bedroom New York City apartment with only little, if any, visits to the outside world. Their only companions? Their parents – and their favorite films.

The documentary The Wolfpack, in theaters nationwide June 19, tells the story of the Angulo brothers’ eccentric upbringing.

Director Crystal Moselle, 34, tells PEOPLE she met the brothers – Bhagavan, Govinda, Narayana, Mukunda, Krisna and Jagadesh – in 2010 when she was walking down First Avenue and saw the boys with their waist-length dark hair all dressed the same with dark sunglasses zipping down the street during one of their rare outings.

“I ran after them instinctually and met up with them and I guess I asked them if they’re all brothers and where they’re from,” Moselle says. “We talked about filmmaking and we kind of became friends at that point.”

But the brothers’ passion for movies – discovering them, reenacting them and filming their own in their home – is what further intrigued Moselle.

“I just thought they were so fascinating and so passionate about movies and cinema and learning and there’s this real openness that you don’t get with your average New Yorker,” she says.

The Wolfpack dives into the life of the brothers, who, according to the documentary, were trapped inside their Lower East Side apartment under the power of their father, Oscar, who was the only person who had a key. The film details how they used popular culture to cope with their isolation.

A Peruvian immigrant and Hare Krishna follower, Oscar explains in the film he wanted to live to Scandinavia, but they stayed in New York because they couldn’t afford to move. Afraid of the dangers of modern life, he didn’t allow the children to step into the outside world as to not be “contaminated by any drugs, philosophy or religion,” according to the documentary. The children were all homeschooled by their American-born mother, Susanne.

The film lets viewers inside a world unimaginable to some, but the six brothers prove imagination is what you make of it. The boys often dressed up and created very detailed and extensive props to reenact their favorite films within the walls of their home.

On their own

The filming of The Wolfpack wrapped last fall, and the brothers, some now with short hair, leave the house regularly.

There wasn’t a specific moment or breaking point that they all overruled their father’s wishes for them to stay inside; it was rather a slow process, says Narayana, 22.

“I think it’s when we all started working that we all branched out into our own directions,” says Narayana, who now works at a non-profit research and advocacy group. “We’re always coming back together as a group but finding some of our own paths is just when we started working.”

Govinda, 22, is the only child to have moved out and he now lives in Brooklyn.

“The apartment is great – I live with three roommates,” Govinda, who is a freelance cinematographer, tells PEOPLE. “It’s sort of a feeling of independence.”

When asked what their dad thought about them taking on the outside world, Mukunda, 20, says there is a mutual understanding.

“He understands we’re out in the world, we’re working towards our future, towards our goal,” Mukunda tells PEOPLE. “He still refuses to work and he’s with mom a lot more now.”

Narayana says his father’s hold over the boys is nothing like it once was.

“He no longer has any say in anything and he has to do what our mom says now,” he says.

Susanne Angulo, 60, who in the film says she was torn between her husband’s desire to shelter the children and the children’s need to experience the world, now says she applauds their individuality.

“I think it’s great they’re moving out on their own and creating their own kind of life and network of friends and coworkers that they want,” she tells PEOPLE. “Though I also let it be known to them always, wherever I am, they’ll have a home for as long as they want.”

Real-life surprises

“I used to be really surprised at how much people hug,” Narayana says. “I remember sometimes we would come back home after we hung out with people and we’d say, ‘They gave me a hug!’ So it’s actually like a regular thing. People are really cool, like good friends they hug each other a lot, and that was a very surprising aspect.”

Some of the boys had to come to realize that life is not always like how it is portrayed in the movies.

“Since I’ve broke out, I’ve just become more fascinated with human behavior,” Govinda says. “Just seeing how people interact with one another. It’s different than what you see in the movies. It’s spur of the moment – that was like the first big wakeup call. Nothing’s rehearsed, nothing’s calculated in life.”

Susanne says by having someone film their life inside their home (director Moselle was their first-ever dinner guest), she’s learned to relax around new people and new situations.

“I just learned to once again embrace people and situations and things and to not judge things but just look at it like, ‘Oh, this is happening now,’ and relish it and experience it as an adventure,” she says.

Looking back

Susanne says she doesn’t regret raising her children the way she did.

“My philosophy is, things happen and we are what we are and we can’t change what has happened or even necessarily what will happen,” she says. “But it’s how we experience in the moment and how we can learn from that and become more open to life through that and that’s what I think about the experience of raising them in that environment.”

Crystal adds, “I think that humans can have a real resiliency, especially when there’s an imagination involved.”

Their future

The brothers are creating their own company called Wolfpack Pictures to continue creating films together.

“We will be putting together feature films in the future as cinematographers, directors, screenwriters,” Mukunda says. “This film has helped us create actual projects together instead of reenactments all the time.”

Narayan adds, “I’ve always said my biggest hope in what people will take away from watching this film is, embrace the power of movies. The power of movies will save us all. And that anybody who has every felt trapped in an usual set of circumstances and no matter what kind of upbringing they had, no matter how unusual or how locked in they feel in their situation, you never have to be afraid to break out because all it takes is that first step.”