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Celluloid Heroes

FenceSitters Film Festival Resurrects the Glamour of Bernardsville's Silver Screen

It’s like the plot of a movie. 

The old cinema in Bernardsville, which began showing motion pictures over a century ago, gets a new owner and a new lease on life from two strangers.

The cinema, which had been closed during the pandemic and had been hosting only private events during that time, reopened in October 2023 to great fanfare—and the town’s first-ever international film festival.

It had had a great run, debuting in August 1915 as the Columbia Theater, a vaudeville venue with an orchestra. When silent films came in, it started showing movies featuring stars like Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford. In those days, there were subtitles that floated across the silver screen as a live pianist provided accompaniment.

By 1918, the cinema was doing business as the Liberty Theatre, a moniker it retained all the way up until 1970, when it officially became the Bernardsville Cinema. In 1995, it was transformed into a triplex.

Although it had a prime spot in downtown Bernardsville on Mine Brook Road and was dear to the hearts of the residents, as a business, it wasn’t drawing any attention or dollars.

That changed when a new owner, Christopher Dunn-Meynell of Jersey City, bought it last year.

It was about that same time that filmmaker Kyle Schickner came up with a big idea. 

Schickner, the owner of the film production and TV production company FenceSitter Films, had always dreamed of creating an international film festival. A native of Highland Park, he lives in Mendham, and he found himself often driving by the Bernardsville Cinema.

“I used to live in Los Angeles and I’ve done the film festival circuit with my own work,” he says. “I had the idea for a film festival, but I never had had a venue, so at the end of 2022 or early 2023, I reached out to the owner.”

Meanwhile, Julianne Reynolds, an award-winning international documentary filmmaker, was having the same thoughts.

She had been living in LA and working in India when she returned to her hometown, Basking Ridge.

“I was driving my mother to the doctor and we passed by the theater,” she says. “I had great memories of it—I saw the first ‘Star Wars’ film there when I was a kid. I was looking for a new project, and I wanted to keep the theater alive.”

The idea of a film festival suddenly popped into her head, and when she contacted the owner, she and Schickner connected.

“It was like putting together a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup—one of us was chocolate, the other one was peanut butter—we mixed beautifully,” Schickner says.

Their first film festival, held in October 2023 to mark the official public reopening of the Bernardsville Cinema, featured 28 first-run international films.

“It was a great success: over 800 people attended,” Schickner says.

The duo’s latest event, the FenceSitters Film Festival, will run April 18 to 21 as part of the town’s centennial celebration and will showcase some 40 local and international films that highlight the stories of minorities and underserved communities.

“We chose this theme because these are the types of films I’ve been producing since the mid-1990s,” Schickner says. “It’s important that these underrepresented and underappreciated communities get their stories told.”

The list, culled from over 100 submissions from around the globe, was selected by a committee of 15 New Jersey residents, many of whom live in the Bernardsville area.

“This is more than just going to the movies,” Schickner says. “It’s about meeting the actors and directors—the people who are passionate about storytelling.”

And, Reynolds adds, the festival will allow people to “take a deeper dive into the art of the films.”

The festival will include a screenwriting competition. Readings will be done of the top three finalists, and the winner will be produced by Schickner’s company and screened at the 2025 FenceSitters Film Festival at the Bernardsville Cinema.

“Our goal is to build on the film festival each year and make the Bernardsville Cinema a destination point for people in the area to enjoy these films and to bring commerce to the town,” Schickner says.

See the lineup of films at

It’s important that these underrepresented and underappreciated communities get their stories told.

  • “A Trace” is one film featured at the festival
  • “Paradise Valley” will be featured
  • “August” is a film that will be featured
  • “Doubles” will be screened
  • Kyle Schickner, Julianne Reynolds and Christopher Dunn-Meynell