In 2010, documentarian Crystal Moselle spotted six brothers walking down First Avenue, dressed a la the gangsters of “Reservoir Dogs.” They became the subjects of her first feature, “The Wolfpack,” which starts out as a look at teens who like to re-enact their favorite movies before revealing a darker side: that their parents, with rare exceptions, refuse to let them leave their LES high-rise. The film, shot over four-and-a-half years, follows them as they slowly make their way outside and into society, though Moselle leaves off-screen some of the business with their father, a mysterious figure denounced by some of his sons. Since the film’s debut at Sundance, where it won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, the brothers have become even more used to being outside, some going into film jobs.
How did they react to seeing themselves on a screen, especially scenes of their even younger selves?
Not all of them have seen the film. Govinda and Narayana are actually pretty nervous about seeing themselves on screen. But everyone else in the family has watched it. They think it’s a pretty honest portrayal of what happened. Makunda said that when he watched the film he felt like he had gone through 100 years of therapy and he’s all better now.
It is surprising — and relieving — when they start stepping outside and they seem to actually be OK talking to other people.
One time Makunda said to me, “I have a hard time meeting people. I never know what to talk about.” I asked him, “What do you know the most about?” He said, “Movies.” I said, “Well, everyone loves movies and everyone wants to talk about them. Maybe ask people what their favorite movie is.” And it works. He told me later he was at a party and he asked every single person in the room what their favorite movie was.
Movies can be a great icebreaker and a way to talk about other things.
They are. Movies can be a connection between all of us. For them, they created these worlds that help them escape from the world they live in. They’re about to act out these characters and experience feeling powerful when they’re in a powerless situation.
You’ve told the story about how you spotted them on the street a million times by now. But when you first met them how did you imagine a documentary could go?
I was really charmed by their personalities. I had no idea what the backstory was for quite some time. That’s what pushed me to make this film. I originally thought I’d make this little film about the making of one of those shorts [they made]. I never thought it would turn into what it turned into. I uncovered this whole other thing, and that took years of spending time together and learning about other parts of their lives.