Crystal Moselle Unearths the most Fascinating Wolfpack in NYC
Crystal Moselle answers the phone and I can hear New York City whooshing by behind her. I ask her if this is a good time – that if she’s too busy I can call back. "I’m always busy these days! I’m in a cab trying to get some stuff done," she says before asking me to hold on while she gives incredibly meticulous directions to the driver. It’s no surprise that the filmmaker is so busy – her first film The Wolfpack won the Grand Jury Prize: Documentary award at the Sundance Film Festival, and since then it’s anything anyone can talk about. And for good reason. The film, which Moselle tells me was shot over four and a half years, tells the true tale about the Angulo brothers: a group of six brilliant film aficionados with waist-length hair who grew up (for the most part) confined to their Lower East Side apartment at the behest of their Hare Krishna father.
"Sorry, sorry," Moselle says as she gets her attention back to Milk Made’s Ana Velasco, where they proceed to talk about making movies about characters, her favorite Angulo brothers costume, and becoming part of the Wolfpack.
I just saw the movie last night and had to take a full hour to digest it. It’s unbelievable. How did you first hear about the Angulo family?
I was walking down First Avenue when they ran past me down the street. They just caught my eye, something about them. It was more than how they looked. It was a feeling. They had long hair and sunglasses. They were wearing all black. My instincts took over and I ran after them and I asked them where they were from and they said ‘Delancey St’ and I was like ‘what! I’ve never seen you guys around here.’ They asked me what I did and when I said I was a filmmaker they got really excited.
How long did it take you to learn their circumstance? Did you go to their house first?
Yeah we were friends for probably a year. We were filming and doing stuff. We were hanging out. I decided to do a making of the guys making a film and that was how we started with the idea. Then eventually I learned more about their circumstances in life and the film took off from there.
They mention you were their first guest. Was there any reservations from any of the siblings or either parent to have you there filming them and asking questions?
No it was never uncomfortable. It was a very organic process. They revealed to me what they wanted to reveal.
This is your first feature length. It’s unbelievable to have a topic like this. What was the biggest challenge?
I think the biggest challenge was putting everything into 80 minutes. I’ve been filming for four and a half years. There was so much. It was really about finding the story and finding the heart of it. It took a while to do that. I had a really great editor Enat Sidi who did Jesus Camp and Detropia and she was the perfect person to light the way.
How was it different to interview the dad and get his point of view?
I spent many years on this film and I didn’t interview their father for the first few years. I think it felt right when I did start speaking with them. I spent a lot of time with him. I think that it was really just about being there and capturing the truth of everything. I didn’t have any sort of agenda behind it. With a documentary, the relationship between you and your subjects is always different with everybody you’re filming. So there is that relationship in there but that’s true to every documentary film.
I think it’s very interesting the way you portrayed it. There were times where I felt very empathetic to the father as well, there was never a binary of him being bad and everyone else being good.
I really like that you just said there’s no sense of good and evil because I don’t think that’s how life is. I don’t think that there’s a black and white, that people are good or bad. There are many shades to who we are and it doesn’t mean that some of the decisions we make are right or the repercussions of those decisions. We have to think about how far they go.
I also know that since meeting them you’ve helped produce and even act in some of Mukunda’s films. What’s it been like to work with them? They were your subjects but now you’re collaborating with them. It must be different.
It’s everything. I live for it. I’m so happy we are continuing our collaboration with them. That’s really how we started. Now that the film is over we can really take off and make things and be creative. The next steps of the story are in place now without me holding the camera. I’m very happy about that.
Are you still collaborating?
Oh yeah. I’m helping them start their production company called ‘Wolfpack Pictures’. They’re doing all sorts of projects. They just did a short film with Vice. They just did a thing for TFI that’s gonna be in the NY times this week and now Narayana is developing a piece for activism. There’s a lot of things we’re doing.
The aspect of the costumes is incredible. I was floored when they were describing how they made the costumes. What was your favorite costume or film interpretation of theirs?
There’s so many. I can’t even say. They’re starting to create more stuff. Some of the top favorites I think would be the Batman costume — it’s so brilliant. They created this owl for one of the films. You might have watched that. They just did this film with Vice. It’s pretty brilliant. They put their mom and sister in these flower dress costumes where they made 1000 super tissue flowers and pinned them all over these suits and so they look like real flowers. They’re so amazing. There’s all sorts of different creative, brilliant costumes they’ve made.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Northern California in Marin County and I came over to NY when I was 18 to go to film school at SVA and I’ve been here ever since. I did this documentary about this man named Taylor Mead. I was the producer on that. That was in 2006 and I’ve been making short-form projects ever since. I do commercials and music videos and short films and documentary pieces.
Did you always know you wanted to go to film school when you were young?
Well I used to want to be in front of the camera until I was about 15 when I realized I was too shy and nervous to be on camera — unless it’s one of the Wolfpack guys directing me. It’s the only way I feel comfortable.
You mentioned that you were a producer for Excavating Taylor Mead. The film also shares the tale of this unique larger than life character, like the Angulo brothers. What is it that draws you to create a certain type of film or get involved in a project?
Usually for me it’s not the story that intrigues me, it’s the characters. With Wolfpack, I was really just interested in them as people and that’s what drew me to them. I had no idea what their story was.
What is the first film you watched?
What’s the last film you watched?
Photos courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
The Wolfpack is in now in theaters