Tribeca Film Festival’s Premiere of We the Animals

By Dean Moses

Family plays a vital role in our lives. Whether it is a parent, child, cousin, lover, or close friend, family shapes us, for the better or worse. We may grow to be vastly different from our bloodline or astoundingly close. No matter which category you fall into, you are who you are partly due to your surroundings and loved ones. This significant aspect of human life is depicted with startling realism to an almost disturbing degree in We the Animals.

The Tribeca Film Festival was the conduit through which New York audiences were first able to view We the Animals, a picture based off the book of the same name. We follow a family of three children and two adults—the mother and father—as they live their somewhat uncon-ventional lives. During the day the three young sons run amuck through the wilderness surround-ing their rural home. They do what they want, uninhabited, still, despite their reckless lifestyle they also strive to take care of one another. They play imagined games, explore, and do everything together. However, Jonah, the youngest of the three siblings, has a secret, one hidden from the entire family. In the middle of the night while his brothers are fast asleep, Jonah scurries beneath the bed to recover his artwork stashed between the mattress and planks. Here he hones his craft, scribbling away at handfuls of paper with a variety of colors. But why does he keep this seemingly innocent act hidden I hear you ask. Well, because his illustrations depict material his family would not approve of, such as the time he almost drowned.

The family was on a swimming trip, diving, and gliding in the local river, yet Jonah and his mother sat on the bank, watching the others’ fun from afar. They lacked the skill to swim, so the patriarch decided it was time they learned. The term throwing one in the deep end could not be more appropriate here. The father—who is referred to only as Paps—gently wades to the center of the river, guiding the two unwary swimmers to suddenly dive under, leaving the pair to thrash in a panic-stricken haze. As you can imagine, this childhood trauma plays a fundamental role in Jonah’s life, and the rest of the film. Throughout out the piece, the family traverses traditional arguments and nontraditional, violent altercations that split the family unit asunder. Paps leaves and returns, the mother spirals into depression.

We the Animals has a gritty, realistic feel to the cinematography. We only ever see and hear from the children’s point of view: When the parents argue we catch the muffled voices reverberate through the walls, when Paps leaves, we see through Jonah’s eyes as his daddy is consumed by the darkness outside. These emotional moments are driven further home by the skill of the young actors portraying the brothers. The trio steal the show and demonstrate acting capabilities well beyond their years.


We the Animals is a human journey, exhibiting the trials and tribulations of a family we can all relate to. The extraordinary cinematography, powerful writing, skillful actors, and empathy we feel throughout merge to create an unforgettable viewing experience.  

Red Carpet Interviews While attending the Tribeca Film Festival’s red carpet premiere, the Spring Creek Sun spoke with the cast on the film’s red carpet.

Spring Creek Sun (SCS): How did you go about preparing for the role of Paps, which is based on author Justin Torres’ autobiographical novel, We the Animals?

Raul Castillo (RC): I went into this role with a tentativeness and sensitivity seeing that it’s about someone who is drawing from their own life and based on some truths. There’s a sense of responsibility to honor the story of this family and the script that was provided to us.

SCS: The character of Paps doesn’t seem to be the best person, how did you feel about that character?
RC: I tend to not view it as good or bad, but I look at the scenarios they’ve been through.

SCS: What would you like viewers to take away from this film?RC: It’s a personal story about families, and they are complex and not always perfect. When there are imperfections in that family, there is a possibility to become resilient. SCS: How does it feel to be at Tribeca Film Festival?
RC: My first feature film, Amexicano, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2007. So being back with We The Animals is just very special for me.

SCS: What drew you to the role as the mother in We the Animals?

Sheila Vand (SV): I love this role. I love this story. I love how all of the characters are all broken but are really trying their best to love each other despite the obstacles that life throws their way. And I kind of like the way it teaches you to love yourself and those around you.

SCS: Your character loves her family but at the same time she seems very troubled. Can you tell me how you felt playing such a complicated character?
SV: It was really fun because she has all of these different layers. I enjoyed unpacking the box of this spirit and this soul. I feel very complex as a person and it’s nice to sort of use those different sides of myself in this performance.

SCS: Was it helpful to have the book on hand when preparing for this role?
SV: That was actually one of the best parts because normally you only get so much information from a script, but having the book was like this extra bible for the character. Any questions I had, the answer was there in the book. Also, the writer of the book, Justin Torres was on set with us every day. So even if there was a question I had that couldn’t be answered by the book or the script, he was there to fill in those gaps.

Photos by Dean Moses