Vermonter Josh Melrod Wins Best Director at Italian Film Fest | Film | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Vermonter Josh Melrod Wins Best Director at Italian Film Fest

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Ujon Tokarski in Major Arcana - COURTESY OF JOSH MELROD
  • Courtesy Of Josh Melrod
  • Ujon Tokarski in Major Arcana

Here's a life tip: If you ever successfully submit your cool indie flick to an Italian film festival, especially if said film fest occurs on a spectacular island in an ancient castle, go to the damn festival. That's a lesson Barnard filmmaker Josh Melrod recently learned the hard way.

Melrod is the director of Major Arcana, a quiet little indie drama that stars veteran British character actor Tara Summers of "Boston Legal" and a newcomer, Barnard's Ujon Tokarski. His debut film was accepted by the Ischia Film Festival, which took place earlier this month on Ischia, a small island off the coast of Naples.

But Melrod, a film editor whose credits include The Cult of JT Leroy and Albanian Gangster, was too busy with another project to attend. He couldn't join Tokarski, his friend, Vermont lobbyist Brendan Cosgrove, and Major Arcana costar Collen Doyle, who were carousing in Italy with the likes of actor Radha Mitchell and her husband.

Tokarski and co. sent Melrod frequent FOMO-inducing updates from the festival. So, when they tried reaching him on July 4 to tell him he had won the award for best director, Melrod ignored their calls in favor of spending Independence Day with his family.

"I was getting really jealous," Melrod admitted, "so the phone just kept ringing." When he finally answered after the umpteenth call, he was elated. "Then, a moment later, I was like, 'I can't believe I'm not there.'"

Now Melrod is mainly just thrilled about the accolade, and deservedly so. While Ischia isn't on par with, say, the Sundance Film Festival, acknowledgment there is a big honor, not to mention rare for a Vermont filmmaker.

"It's not Venice or Cannes, but it's prestigious," Melrod said, referring to the Venice and Cannes film festivals.

The award also serves as recognition of one of his film's more unusual attributes. Prior to filming, the movie's lead, Tokarski, had never acted before.

Josh Melrod - COURTESY OF JOSH MELROD
  • Courtesy Of Josh Melrod
  • Josh Melrod

Major Arcana is a quiet, contemplative film about a troubled carpenter who returns home to Vermont to build a cabin — and to rebuild his life. Before making the movie, Melrod had worked on a short film, "Skunk," that featured only one experienced actor and won an award at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. That film inspired him to cast Tokarski, a real-life carpenter who worked on Melrod's house while he was writing the script.

"It was cool to see the difference between people who don't have any experience and don't rely on any craft [and professional actors]," he said of editing "Skunk." "In the editing room, you take the parts that are awkward, or they stumble, and you take these real genuine moments and bring them to the surface. I thought that would be well suited for this particular role."

Major Arcana is Melrod's directorial debut, but editing gave him a head start on the learning curve. "Editing is a great film school," he said, "because you see all the mistakes that other people make."

As for Tokarski, the other first-timer, Melrod described him as a hard worker and quick study who compensated for his lack of acting experience with other qualities. "He's a personable guy, and he has a really expressive face," Melrod said.

"It was an eye-opening experience," Tokarski said of acting in the film. "Josh's ability to take a nonactor and marry my skill set as a carpenter with his as a director speaks volumes to his talent."

Melrod is working on a couple of other scripts at the moment, but given his editing workload, he anticipates it will be another year before he decides what to pursue next. In the meantime, Vermont audiences can see Major Arcana at the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival in August.

Tokarski said he hasn't exactly caught the acting bug, but he'd do another film if the opportunity came along.

"I enjoy what I do, so if [acting] never happens again, I can look fondly back on the experience," he said. "But I would definitely do it again."

And, if that theoretical flick happened to land on a film festival program, you can bet he and Melrod would be there.

Major Arcana will be featured at the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival, which is Thursday, August 22, through Sunday, August 25, at various Middlebury locations.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Vermont's Josh Melrod Honored as Director at Italian Film Fest"