This project is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.

*Applications for the 2023-35 cohort are now closed. We will announce this group in late September. Watch this space for those updates as well as for next year's application in summer of 2024. In the meantime, review the FAQ below if you're considering preparing an application in 2024!

As part of Milwaukee Film’s mission to elevate diverse voices in film, Focus Finder is a storytelling accelerator designed to build a small cohort of emerging local filmmakers from underrepresented communities. The program will combine the best parts of mentorship and fellowship to strengthen emerging voices in Milwaukee’s film industry pipeline.

Our Origin Story

During the summer of 2019, at the invitation of 371 Productions, members of our team attended the Localism Convening at AFI DOCS to discuss ways to elevate non-coastal film and broadcast industries. Joined by delegates from Iowa, Raleigh/Durham, and the DMV (DC, Maryland, and Virginia) region and armed with our 2016 ICF data, we discussed ways to broaden and deepen our Milwaukee-area industry. One of the largest sticking points was retaining talent. Not only were we continuously losing our talented makers to the coasts, but those who remained were more-often-than-not unable to break out of Milwaukee and into the larger, national industry.

With the creation of the Forward Fund in 2015, some of this had shifted. In the six years since its inception, $400,000 in cash and over $500,000 of in-kind production services have been awarded. Five Forward Fund award-winning films have gone on to premier at major U.S. festivals thus far.

We are moving the needle. But it is a slow process.
So why don’t we ramp it up? Perhaps you could say…accelerate it?

After our planning meetings at AFI DOCS, we applied for an Arts Works II grant through the National Endowment for the Arts. After being approved for NEA funding (yay!), Milwaukee Film launched the Focus Finder Accelerator program in September 2020.

Starting each fall, 4-6 local filmmakers will take part in this two-year, cohort-based accelerator to deepen emerging filmmaking talent’s understanding of the industry, not only in Milwaukee but also on the coasts, connect filmmakers to national industry players and resources, and further develop the talent coming out of – and hopefully staying in – Milwaukee.

Combining the best parts of mentorship, fellowship, and apprenticeship programs, this accelerator aims to develop and strengthen the emerging-to-established segment of the film industry pipeline in Milwaukee. This accelerator builds a small cohort of emerging filmmakers from underrepresented communities; supports them through the production of one short film and development of a larger project (first or second feature, web series, etc.); creates communal spaces and support systems through regular gatherings, skill-shares, and wellness resources; and provides them with access to industry training through external partner- and mentorships, travel funds, and additional resources tailored to the individuals’/cohort’s needs.


Read more about the incredibly talented Milwaukee artists who comprise all of our Cohorts. 



How do I apply?

Applications are now open! Click here to apply!

We strongly recommend that you prepare your answers in advance (in a word processing program) before pasting them into the fields of the form. You may move forward and backwards through the form without adding information (to see what questions may be up coming and to prepare your materials). We have also created a PDF containing all the application questions to help you work on your application offline.


You may save a partial application and resume completing it later. To do so, click “Save and Resume Later” at the bottom of any form page. This will show a screen with a link that you can use to return to your partially-completed application. You can email that link to yourself at that time for safe keeping. Until your application is complete, we do not receive any record of your saved work. Applications must be completed by the deadline, so be sure to remember to return and complete your application in time!

Once you’ve completed the required fields of the application and clicked “submit” you will receive an email containing all your application data just as you submitted it. This email serves as your receipt that your application has been received.

Who is eligible?

The Focus Finder Accelerator program was built to elevate underrepresented voices across the film industry and bridge the pipeline between emerging and established independent film creators. Eligible applicants must:

  • Be an individual filmmaker from an underrepresented community* (as defined by the filmmaker).
  • Be in the emerging phase of their filmmaking career.
  • Have experience or work history that demonstrates their commitment to independent film, including but not limited to documentary, fiction, web series, or experimental work.
  • Be at least 18 years old.
  • Not be enrolled in a full-time academic program.
  • Demonstrate a commitment to making a career in the film industry.
  • Be able to commit to the full 24-month program and attend weekly cohort meetings. Preference will be given to Wisconsin-based filmmakers.

*Underrepresented communities may include - but are not limited to - race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, social class, physical ability or attributes, mental abilities or attributes, religious or ethical values system, national origin, etc.

That's pretty broad - so what's NOT eligible?

Here’s the fine print in layman’s terms:

  • One application per applicant.
  • No team applications can be accepted at this time. If it would be useful for more than one team member, we encourage all eligible team members to apply as separate individuals.
  • Current year-round Milwaukee Film employees, Board members, major funders and the immediate families of such folks are ineligible.
  • And, finally, student films and currently enrolled students in Film Production-related programs are not eligible to apply.
How will projects be evaluated?

Projects and applications will be evaluated on the basis of:

  • Artistic merit, strength, originality, and vision of the applicant
  • Storytelling and technical skills as demonstrated in the application and work samples
  • Aspirations of the applicant and the value of the program components to propel their career forward
  • Impact of program on their project at this stage in production
Who will be selecting the cohort?

The accelerator cohort will be selected by an independent, external jury of nationally-recognized film industry members (e.g. no staff or Board members of Milwaukee Film and, indeed, no one from the Milwaukee area). As the accelerator is built to elevate underrepresented voices, we aim to have the jury represent and reflect that goal as well. The jury will hold final deliberations in mid-September.

When can I expect to hear if I’ve been accepted into the program?

The cohort will be publicly announced at an event in Milwaukee on Tuesday, September 19. All applicants will be notified of their status via email on Wednesday, September 20. At that point, the selected cohort will be given full accelerator details, timeline, and necessary paperwork for enrollment, including a Code of Conduct and a commitment to the program in its entirety. 

Okay, so say I get accepted into the program? What does that look like?

Great question! This is probably the most exciting part! The inaugural cohort will be made up of 4-6 individual filmmakers who will meet weekly in person (once we are able to do so safely). In addition to peer-to-peer skill shares and outside industry experts, a mentor will meet with the cohort as a group and as individuals throughout your time in the program.

The first year of the program revolves around the creation of a short film. This may be a proof-of-concept for your feature length project, a trailer, the short version of your film, or something else entirely. Throughout the first year, the cohort will not only meet with each other and their mentor, but they will meet with national industry experts who will be brought into Milwaukee (again, once we are able to do so safely – virtually until then) to connect with, mentor, and teach the cohort.

The second year of the program has each cohort participant work on their feature film project, building off those initial – and new – industry relationships. There will be travel assistance to attend festivals, network and meet industry representatives, and hold meetings on the coasts. In the second year, we also aim to have the initial cohort skill share with the new first years and build a larger cohort, accountability, and additional working relationships