In 2011, out author Justin Torres earned critical acclaim for his semi-autobiographical debut novel, We The Animals .
In just 149 pages, it traced the lives of three mixed-race brothers leading a wild, independent childhood in 1980s upstate New York. The book is a moving—and at times painful—exploration of gender and masculinity, especially in its focus on the narrator, the youngest brother, as he grows into his queerness.
Seven years later, Torres’ book has been adapted to the big screen by director Jeremiah Zagar (In a Dream) and screenwriter Daniel Kitrosser. The film is making its highly anticipated premiere at Sundance on January 20.
Below, Zagar discusses the creative process behind making We The Animals, including casting relative unknowns Josiah Gabriel, Isaiah Kristian, and Evan Rosado as brothers Joel, Manny, and Jonah (the unnamed narrator in the book).
“We shot this film as a family,” Zagar says. “It was one of the most incredible, joyful, moving, amazing, horrible experiences of my life… Making [this movie] has been a lifelong dream come true.”
Rounding out the cast as the boy’s volatile parents are Looking actor Raúl Castillo and Sheila Vand, best known as “the Girl” in the queer thriller A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.