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Barnard Resident Makes His First Feature Right in Town

  • On the set of "Major Arcana" Director of Photography Ramsey Fendall, left, First Assistant Director Dax Stringer, Director/Writer Josh Melrod and Margaret Sclafani a camera assistant and camera operator prepare for a scene in Barnard, Vt., on Sept. 7, 2016. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • Actor Tara Summers was about film a scene in Major Arcana a feature film written and directed by Josh Melrod, in Barnard, Vt., on Sept. 7, 2016. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • Margaret Efthim removes anything identifiable on a whiskey bottle on the set of "Major Arcana" in Barnard, Vt., on Sept. 7, 2016. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • Rachel Kenaston, of Brooklyn, N.Y., readies a scene for "Major Arcana" in Barnard, Vt., on Sept. 7, 2016. She is in the art department and script supervisor. In the corner first-time writer/director Josh Melrod talks with actors, Ujon Tokarski and Tara Summers.(Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • A script for "Major Arcana" lays on the floor in Barnard, Vt., on Sept. 7, 2016. First-time writer/director Josh Melrod has recently finished shooting the movie. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/14/2016 12:26:02 AM
Modified: 10/14/2016 12:23:38 PM

In the midst of a busy career editing footage of other people’s movies, Josh Melrod spent many hours driving between his home in Barnard and assignments in New York City, ruminating “about stories of my own.”

On one of those drives, Melrod recalled this week, his thoughts turned to the public TV series Alone in the Wilderness, in which retired Navy machinist Dick Proenneke documented his post-World War II years of living off the land in a log cabin he built himself in a remote part of Alaska.

“There’s something about it that’s very captivating,” Melrod said during a phone interview. “I love that he does things like making his own raspberry jam and then realizing, ‘But first I need to make a spoon,’ and then he does it. I was inspired to write about a builder who’s trying to live that way while repairing disastrous relationships. It gradually became the screenplay. It was the first full feature that I thought was feasible, that required a very small cast and a very small crew.”

This fall, Melrod is fine-tuning Major Arcana , the independent feature he shot in Barnard over 19 days this summer, building it around the real-time construction of a cabin at the former Clark Farm, now home to the Fable Farm Collective.

Made on a budget of $250,000, the movie co-stars Barnard native, carpenter and first-time actor Ujon Tokarski as Dink, the builder and prodigal son, and veteran actresses Tara Summers (from the BBC Civil-War-hospital miniseries Mercy Street) and Lane Bradbury (Rita in the 1974 Martin Scorcese movie Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and 40 years of roles in TV series and movies) playing, respectively, Dink’s ex-girlfriend Sierra and Dink’s mother Jean.

“That casting worked out wonderfully,” said Teo Zagar, a longtime Barnard resident and documentarian who served as one of Major Arcana’s three producers. “Tara and the crew connected. And Tara and Ujon really connected. It was a real team effort.

“Everyone was really all in.”

Zagar, a 1996 graduate of Woodstock Union High School who now runs Longshot Productions out of his hometown, was all in as soon as he read Melrod’s script, and learned of the business plan to go with a crew of a dozen building the cabin and crafting the movie right in town.

“It was interesting to watch how every role fit into this larger machine,” said Zagar, who had worked with Melrod and Melrod’s wife-to-be, Tara Wray, on Cartoon College, a 2012 documentary about the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction. “It functioned like a system of gears. We were working around each other and together, on a tight schedule.

“In retrospect, it was a miracle we pulled it off. There was little margin for error, to redo anything. We adapted well when things didn’t work out or had to change.”

Melrod said that visiting the Nantucket Island set of Northeast Kingdom filmmaker Jay Craven’s 2015 Peter and John, which Melrod edited, taught him more about adaptation than any textbook could have.

“You see how to organize a community around a project,” said Melrod, whose editing credits also include the documentary The Cult of JT LeRoy and Craven’s Northern Borders. “Jay’s been doing that for more than 20 years. It’s not easy to do, and he makes it look easy. To make a movie happen, the community is a resource.”

In Barnard, the resources included Fable Farm’s Joe LaDouceur, who designed the cabin, and Tokarski, who provided verisimilitude while doing a lot of the heavy lifting.

“The idea was always that we would have a non-actor in the lead role, who could actually do a lot of the more physically demanding things, who knew how to build, as opposed to us showing their face and then cutting to someone else’s hands.”

While the cabin will remain at Fable Farm, Melrod is doing the finish work on the picture. Next week in New York City, he will start post-production exercises with film students at The Edit Center, which worked on the Academy Award-nominated Winter’s Bone several years ago.

Melrod expects to spend the next four to eight months on post production, and finding film festivals willing to show it on the 2017 circuit.

And he’s enjoying the process, while it lasts.

“At some point, I have to go back to my editing career,” Melrod said. “I’m trying to keep that at bay as much as possible.

“At some point, I have to work on other people’s movies.”

Horror Shows

The Charlestown, N.H., Historical Society screens two silent films starring Lon Chaney on Sunday afternoon. Silent-film pianist Jeff Rapsis will play a live soundtrack to 1925’s The Phantom of the Opera and 1927’s The Unknown, starting at 2 at the old Charlestown Town Hall on Summer Street. While admission is free, donations to the historical society are encouraged.

The Briggs Opera House in White River Junction shows Christine, director John Carpenter’s film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel about a possessed, self-driving and self-repairing car running rogue, next Friday night at 8:30. Before the movie, for which Dartmouth film professor Bill Phillips wrote the screenplay, the Plymouth Fury used in the 1983 movie, will be displayed in Fred Briggs Park, across from the Tuckerbox in White River Junction from 2 to 5 in the afternoon. To learn more, visit

Coming Attractions

Next up at the Chandler Film Society’s movie series is a screening in Randolph on Sunday night of The Manchurian Candidate. This 1962 version, directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Laurence Harvey, Frank Sinatra and Angela Lansbury, follows the race to prevent a brainwashed former prisoner of war from committing a political assassination.

After a session of refreshments at 6, the movie starts at 6:30 in the Upper Gallery of the Chandler Center for the Arts. Film scholar Rick Winston will introduce the film and lead a discussion of it after the lights come up. Admission is $9 at the door; a $100 membership in the film society brings free admission to all films. To learn more about this weekend’s movie and about the series, visit or call 802-431-0204 or email

The Bradford Historical Society hosts a talk by the Vermont Historical Society on the topic of “Vermont versus Hollywood: 100 Years of Vermont in Film,” on Tuesday night at the Bradford Congregational Church. Starting at 7, the state historical society’s Amanda Kay Gustin will talk about and show clips from movies ranging from 1919’s Way Down East to the 2005 feature Thank You for Smoking. To learn more, visit

Norwich-based director Nora Jacobson kicks off the Vermont International Film Festival in Burlington next Friday night with a screening of The Hanji Box, her new feature exploring a mother’s search for the origins of a work of art belonging to the daughter she adopted from Korea. Jacobson also showed the movie at the Maine International Film Festival in July. The screening in Burlington next Friday starts at 7, at The Film House at Main Street Landing. For tickets ($10) and more information about the festival, visit

The Hopkins Center on Oct. 23 will screen Hamilton’s America, Alex Horwitz’s documentary about the evolution and Broadway-smash success of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical Hamilton. The film debuts on public television later this fall, so the screening is a sneak peek. Horwitz will answer questions after the screening, which starts at 7 p.m. in Spaulding Auditorium, after the lights come back up. To order tickets ($5 to $10) and learn more, visit or call 603-646-2422.

Looking Back

The Cine Salon at 20 celebration continues at Hanover’s Howe Library on Saturday, with screenings starting at 10:30 a.m. of four reels of vintage home movies — three from the Great Depression and one from the early 1960s. Also, a film preservationist will be on hand to advise moviegoers who bring their own non-video home movies how to protect and screen them. To reserve a time for a consultation, email

Next up in the celebration, on Monday at 7, Cine Salon will explore the history of segregation in cinema with screenings of Lying Lips and The Blood of Jesus, directed, respectively, by African-American film pioneers Oscar Michaeux and Spencer Williams. To learn more, visit

David Corriveau can be reached at and at 603-727-3304.

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