Five of seven siblings sit smiling in front of me in a London cafe. I recognise their faces from the film made of their lives that I watched, jaw open, last night.
Documentary ‘The Wolfpack’ tells the story of the Angulo family, two parents and seven children, holed up in a small flat in New York, the children prevented from going out by their father, home-schooled by their mother, and left to amuse and stimulate themselves by re-enacting scenes from their father’s extensive DVD collection. There was no internet, so all their knowledge came from books.
All of them are experts on film makers from Truffaut to Tarantino, their pantomimes so thorough that they were once raided by police officers, who mistook their paper guns for real weapons.
The film, made up of a mixture of old footage and up-to-date interviews, reveals how this claustrophobic situation - which appears impressively conflict-free in the telling - only came to a head when one teenager walked out of the flat, and was promptly put under the eye of the welfare services.
Since then, the children have been able to walk around unsupervised and take in their Manhattan surroundings for real. The name ‘Wolfpack’ is inspired by their distinctive appearance - roaming the streets as one, dark hair down their backs, quiet, polite but all-noticing.
The biggest surprise, then, that comes when I meet them in London is how… normal they all are. For this they all credit their mother…
"She's the hero of this story," says Narayana. And the lesson? "We hope that people watching this film will realise that you can always hope, that you don't have to be trapped or held down. You're always free to choose your own dreams, chase your own goals... and to never take movies for granted."
About their father, the man who kept them inside for all those years, they have only nice things to say, too.
"We have our own world, and we have an understanding, but we wish no ill towards each other," explains Mukunda, hinting at a cordial separation, that sounds no worse than many a father and son.
"He was raised as an only child, so he always had this world surrounding him," he adds by way of understanding if not forgiveness for his father's actions. "He was brought up in a similar way."
Do their parents feel judged by this film which definitely raises silent questions about the way their parents brought up this particular group of children?
"Our mother is very comfortable with it," says Mukunda. "She doesn't care what people think, what she cares about what she thought about the film. She loved it, she thought it had great emotional depth, and our father loved it as well, he thought it was an honest film. He gives it a thumbs up."
The future looks bright. Paradoxically, because of a film about them being tucked away from modern culture, they’re now embarking on meeting their film heroes one by one. They’ve already shaken the hand of Werner Herzog, and their company Wolfpack Pictures is in the pipeline.
So, with all this to look forward to, any regrets? More smiles from everyone.
"A little bit," says Mukunda. "We'll always have regrets in life, but luckily we have the power to put that aside and move forward instead."
Narayana adds, "Looking back just doesn't do any good."
Finally, as it’s not often you get the chance to ask an adult for their completely objective, initial thoughts on entering society, I wonder what their first impressions were of the real world - after living through their big screen heroes, were we found wanting?
"How nice everyone was," replies Mukunda. "Because we were raised that everyone is out to get you, that you have to be on your guard, that everyone wants something from you, so don't speak to anybody.
"But when we approached people, they were like the nicest people on earth, nothing that we'd been brought up to believe. You're actually really nice."
'The Wolfpack' is in UK cineams today. Watch the trailer below...