A Few Minutes with Crystal Moselle The Woman Behind ‘The Wolfpack’

Posted in Hot Docs 2015, Interviews, Theatrical by - June 14, 2015

Filmmakers are often faced with the decision of telling a story via fiction and crafting a narrative or via real life and the documentary art form.  Some stories simply demand to be told by the people who are witnessing it all.  The Wolfpack is one of those films that just clubs you on the side of the head with some raw magic and emotion and never lets you go as we learn the tale of the Angulo Brothers who live on the lower east side of Manhattan and have rarely ever left their house, instead learning of the outside world through movies and then re-enacting them with loving care and detail.  However their entire world changes when one of them actually ‘escapes’ and then everything changes.

During the recent Hot Docs Film Festival I got the chance to sit down with director Crystal Moselle about the making of the film and about how the more you watch the more beautiful layers of this very unique family comes through.



Dave Voigt: Obviously, I really enjoyed the film and the more it sits with me and I get to peel back the layers of it all, the more I really get out of it.  Walk me through your initial meeting with the guys and how this entire process got started.

Crystal Moselle: Yeah, I met them on the street and they ran past me one day and I just instinctually ran after them and we met up at a crosswalk.  I asked them where they were from because they really gave off a bit of a foreign vibe and they said “Delancy Street” which was like three blocks away and I was stunned.  Then Govinda one of the older boys asked me what I did for a living which could of course look like a pretentious New York question (Laughs) but then he said that they were looking to get into the business of filmmaking.  So of course I said sure, I can show you some stuff and we can hang out, we ultimately became friends.  Then another day we met up in the park and I showed them some camera’s and we would just talk about movies and one day they invited me home.

DV: I can imagine that first visit would have been a unique one.

CM: Oh yeah!  I was overwhelmed at how amazing it was, I mean they had all this amazing art, everywhere and they were getting ready for their Halloween festival, with these incredible props and all this stuff that they take so seriously it was just fascinating to watch.  They had told me upfront that they were home schooled, and I mean I had cousins that were home schooled so it really was just a different way of living for them.  They’re a little quirky but there is nothing wrong with it obviously, so I went over a few more times and then I asked them if they would be interested in participating in a documentary about them.  They loved the idea and initially I just thought I would end up doing a fun little American Movie style type of thing where I would just document them but that idea kind of fell apart and I really didn’t do any sit down type interviews with them for a solid year and a half.

DV: So they were all pretty comfortable with you by that point?

CM: Oh yeah, but I really wasn’t prodding on any level because at some point they just started reveling stuff to me.  One day at the pizza parlor, because they loved going to get pizza they reveled “The Escape” that we document in the movie and I was like, “Ok, we ‘ve got something a little deeper going on here”.

DV: It’s such a fascinating piece and I am curious are you aware of how things are playing out in the moment while filming it?  Because aside from them obviously working on their movies and storyboards and things like that it all unfolds in such a grand cinematic fashion.

CM: Thank you so much, everything was such in the moment that I couldn’t really even think about while filming it.

DV: So would you say it was something you found more in the editing suite?

CM: I knew after a certain point, but when they gave me the VHS tapes of their childhood I knew that I had something really special on my hands.

DV: How many hours of footage was it?

CM: Oh it was about 500 hours, it was a lot.

DV: Wow…has everyone seen the final product yet?

CM: Yes, well almost everyone, the twins haven’t seen they just don’t want to see themselves on screen but everyone is very involved with everything surrounding the film now.  It was very emotional for all of them to see the film and Mukunda told me afterwards that it felt like he had been to 100 years of therapy.  They felt like it was an honest portrayal and very healing for them all in some sense.

DV: It really does play like such an emotionally cathartic experience and I mean these guys are movie fans obviously, you and I are movie fans, do they see the almost meta quality to it all?

CM: (Smiles wryly) Oh yeah (laughs)  We all learned that word pretty early on.  But yeah, everything was a reference to something else and they are just so passionate about it, that I just don’t see any other way for these guys to be.

DV: Exactly and that passion really does come through in the film because even when you get past that initial layer of how they are living and you then realize that is it OK and through the layers of it all it becomes an almost magical story, like you say these guys are going out into the world for the first time and you can tell and as an audience member are kind of in awe of it.

CM: Yeah, it was really amazing to see them just explore life.  That is why I was so attracted to their vibe…photo_05

DV: Can you plan or write anything in a situation like this, or is all about being on the go?

CM: You can try, I tried? (Laughs) I mean I thought that I knew what this film was going to be about, but it ended up being something completely different.  You can plan an outline of something you think it is going to be but when you are in the edit room it really comes down to finding that emotion.  We had such a great editor in Enat Sidi who did Jesus Camp & Detropia.  When we found the emotion of it all we found the story, and you can say you have a basic framework where they do X or Y but it ends up going where it goes and it’s all about what you feel and what you see.

DV: Is documentary ultimately the passion for you?  You’ve worked on things like Frida and other projects, is documentary the medium for you or does it ultimately come down to the story?

CM: It really does come down to the quality of the story, because I am writing a script right how and I am pitching a potential TV series…

DV: Because I mean there are documentarians and then there are filmmakers who go where the story takes them.

CM: Oh totally, there are so many great stories out there and most of mine come from personal experience but a lot of times you have to do something in a scripted fashion maybe because it might be a little dangerous or complex to do as a narrative and that is something that I am dealing with on a project as we speak.

The Wolfpack is playing at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema now and opens in Calgary, Vancouver and Ottawa in the coming weeks.

This post was written by
David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like Examiner.com, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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