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.