Mexican American filmmaker Kerry Mondragon was sitting inside a methadone clinic when the idea for his film Tyger Tyger hit him.
“I was in this very grimy place and I just envisioned this sort of Wizard of Oz scene where [Dorothy] just nods off,” Mondragon told Remezcla during an interview earlier this week. “I sort of blended all these fantasy elements into the script.”
The film, which is set during a pandemic, but shot before COVID-19 started last year, follows a group of teenagers who steal prescription drugs from pharmacies to distribute freely to people who need the medication. At the center of the story is Blake (Sam Quartin), a strongminded young woman, who makes a deep connection with Luke (Dylan Sprouse), a drug addict looking for a way to atone for his sins.
In Tyger Tyger, Mondragon, who was mentored by Oscar-winning filmmaker Spike Lee on the set of his 2014 film Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, wanted to take aspects of his own life and combine them with poetic elements to give the film a sort of altered sense of the truth. An addict himself in the past, he took those issues that people always labeled as shameful and transformed them into “assets” he used to create his narrative and characters.
“Those experiences, the good and the bad, are what shaped me into who I am today,” Mondragon said. “Making this film was a way to express it. It was empowering in that sense.”
Mondragon said he uses certain things he’s encountered growing up as a way of working through his creative process. Whether that’s confronting his past drug habits or bouts of depression, he’s learned how to harness those things that once seemed too difficult to overcome into something meaningful like film.
“If you can do that, you can almost be unstoppable because you learn that there’s something stronger than the addict,” he said. “It’s like, ‘I’m going to get this film done and there is nothing that can stop me.’”
Now, Mondragon looks forward to using his newfound obsession with cinema to tells stories that are honest, insightful and don’t follow a traditional framework.
“I want to make films that are very personal but also very unconventional,” he said. “If there is heart and truth in it, then you actually have the ability to really connect with people.”