University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee


MFA in Film: Performing Arts

The Graduate Program in Film in the Peck School of the Arts at UW-Milwaukee is interdisciplinary, hands-on, and non-commercial in spirit with a commitment to the intensive and rigorous production of creative time-based art. We have a dedicated, internationally recognized faculty for a small and mutually supportive group of 10-14 graduate students. We encourage works which demonstrate a personal commitment to the art of media making, projects marked not so much by any particular style but rather by the questions they explore. It is the goal of the program to assist each graduate student in completing a number of accomplished works rooted in a developed sense of community, culture, and self.

Still from recent film Alumnus Sky Hopinka’s "Visions of an Island," 2016. While a student, Sky won a Princess Grace Foundation Award, and the Tom Berman Award for Most Promising Filmmaker at the 54th Ann Arbor Film Festival.

The MFA program in film maintains artistic and intellectual connections within the university that include partnerships with Art and Design, Music, Dance, History, Architecture, Anthropology, English, the Center of 21st Century Studies, the Center for International Education, and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. The Film Department also works closely with such campus cultural institutions as the UWM Union Cinema and Inova (Institute of Visual Arts). Regional partners include the Milwaukee Film Festival, Wisconsin Film Festival, Milwaukee Art Museum, Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, and Chicago’s Video Data Bank.

For nearly 20 years, the UWM Union Cinema, an art house cinema with nightly screenings, has been managed and programmed by graduate students in film. There are two annual cultural events at the Union Cinema connected to the film department: the Milwaukee LGBT Film & Video Festival, programmed by faculty member Carl Bogner, and the Milwaukee Underground Film Festival, which runs as a course in the department every spring and can be taken for credit as a graduate student. Additionally, there is a weekly screening series at the Union Cinema called Experimental Tuesdays. This semester, part of Experimental Tuesdays is being programmed by film graduates who are curating works from UW-Milwaukee’s vast 16mm archive.

The film department frequently invites visiting makers, theorists, and curators to share their work and research. Past visitors include Martin Arnold, Craig Baldwin, Stephanie Barber, Daniel Barrow, James Benning, Sally Berger, Amy Beste, Charles Burnett, Jon Cates, Thomas Comerford, Stephen Connolly, Zeinabu Irene Davis, David Dinnell, Kevin Jerome Everson, Charles Fairbanks, Robert Fenz, Kelly Gallagher, David Gatten, Michael Gitlin, Jacqueline Goss, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Debra Granik, Vincent Grenier, Nicky Hamlyn, Peter Hutton, Mike Hoolboom, Jim Jennings, Miranda July, Lynn Kirby, Lewis Klahr, Peter Kubelka, George Kuchar, Mike Kuchar, Andrew Lampert, Nathan Lee, Cheryl Leonard, Sharon Lockhart, Rose Lowder, LoVid, Abina Manning, Bruce McClure, Mono No Aware, Jennifer Montgomery, Matthias Müller, J.J. Murphy, Julie Murray, Gunvor Nelson, Bradford Nordeen, Julie Perini, Jaap Pieters, Luis Recoder and Sandra Gibson, Jennifer Reeder, Steve Reinke, Joost Rekveld, Vanessa Renwick, Michael Robinson, Gloria Rolando, Ben Russell, Carolee Schneeman, Fern Silva, Cauleen Smith, Greta Snider, Scott Stark, Alexander Stewart, Deborah Stratman, Chris Sullivan, Marc Toscano, Jim Trainor, Ryan Trecartin, Richard Tuohy, Wu Tsang, Naomi Uman, Pacho Velez, Vladmaster, Travis Wilkerson, and Genevieve Yue.

MFA Degree Admission

All materials are due January 15th and are to be registered and uploaded through the Graduate School Application Form

International Students

The UW-Milwaukee Center for International Education provides detailed application requirements.

All students who speak English as a second language are also required to take the TOEFL test unless your bachelor degree was earned within two years of your enrollment at UWM and you've attended a minimum of 2 years.

Transfer of Credits

With the approval of the Department of Film graduate program and the Graduate School, an applicant from another institution may be permitted to transfer up to 19 credits toward the total of 48 graduate credits required for the MFA degree.


The MFA in film at UW-Milwaukee awards 4-5 Teaching Assistantships per year. The Teaching Assistantship (as of 2016-2017) includes tuition remission and an annual stipend of $8,481. In addition we look to secure for each graduate a $6,500 Chancellor’s Graduate Student Award. Each graduate is also offered studio space at Kenilworth Studios for a small annual fee, and affordable state health coverage through the university.

Other funding opportunities include:

  1. The Distinguished Graduate Student Fellowship ($15,000 for one-year, non-renewable for $15,000, plus full tuition remission).
  2. The Advanced Opportunity Program Fellowship ($15,000 per year plus full tuition remission, renewable for up to two years).
  3. The Graduate Student Travel Award, where graduate students are offered funding for project-based travel. The average award is $400, and is limited to $1,000. Each student can earn the award twice while at UW-Milwaukee.

If you feel you qualify for an Advanced Opportunity Program Fellowship or a Distinguished Graduate Student Fellowship (which is highly competitive) you should notify the film graduate representative Steve Wetzel, prior to December 1.

Film MFA Facilities

The UW-Milwaukee film department consists of two facilities: Mitchell Hall and Kenilworth. Mitchell Hall is a handsome building located on the active UW-Milwaukee campus and is home to the majority of the Department’s undergraduate classes. It contains the bulk of our 16mm production tools (including contact printer, optical printers, Steenbecks, etc.) our in-house 16mm black & white reversal film processing, our equipment checkout room, the faculty and graduate student offices and an intimate cinema in room B91 (equipped with a screen stretched by Robert Nelson). One mile south of the UW-Milwaukee campus is the Peck School of the Arts Kenilworth building, a beautifully renovated facility that includes studio space for graduate students and faculty; graduate digital editing suites, a green screen room (built by our very own Technical Director, Bill Berens); dark room for film processing; audio recording booth; large production space with lighting grid; and animation studio. Graduate students have twenty-four hour access to both facilities (Mitchell Hall and Kenilworth). More info on the Film facilities page.


Due to the busy nature of our teaching and creative research, we can only give tours of the film facilities to those who have been accepted into the program. If you are going to visit campus before you've been admitted and would like to hear more about the program, please contact Steve Wetzel,, and he will schedule a brief meeting over coffee or tea.

For further information

Contact Steve Wetzel, Director of MFA in Film: Performing Arts
Film Department office: (414) 229-6015

MFA Degree Curriculum

Still from Janelle VanderKelen’s Clara, 2016. Janelle has presented work at various academic conferences including the Midwest Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference, and the 48th Annual National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts

Degree Requirements

  • 9 credits in graduate seminar (Film 710, 712, 714: Graduate Film Studio/Seminar)
  • 9 credits in graduate thesis (Film 730, Film 732: Advanced Research in Film)
  • The remaining 30 credits of the 48-credit Film MFA degree are to be taken as Film MFA electives (see below).

Required Courses (18 credits)

Film 710, 712, 714: Graduate Film Studio/Seminar - (9 credits required, 12 credits maximum)
The Graduate Seminar provides students with the opportunity to interact and respond to each other's works-in-progress on an ongoing basis. With faculty guidance, students help each other to articulate, refine and write about the ideas and meanings of their present work and to begin preparing for professional practices as artists. As such, the class features visits and presentations by established local, national and international artists, curators and critics working in the areas of film, video and new genres. Visits to museums, galleries, screenings and other events also constitute a significant part of this course.

Film 730 (3 credits), 732 (6 credits): Advanced Research in Film I and II
These courses are to be taken during the candidate’s second year of graduate study. The work produced during this time constitutes the student’s thesis project, (or group of smaller projects), worked on with the guidance of the student's major thesis advisor.

Electives (30 credits)

Film 700: Professional Practice (maximum of 9 credits)
Professional practice is an internship or project done in connection with a media-related enterprise to develop specialized skills and practical experience in the field. It may also be carried out with a non-profit agency, using media as a form of community. Enrollment in a professional practice course must be endorsed by the student's major thesis advisor and approved by the director of the graduate program in film.

Examples of recent past professional practice projects include assisting with the university’s LGBT Film Festival; interning for the Milwaukee International Film Festival; doing PR/media for community organizations; interning with DocUWM; guest programming for the Union Cinema, or Chicago’s The Nightingale; and assisting with Film 302, Video in the Schools.

Film 720, 722: Graduate Media Arts Workshop I and II (maximum of 9 credits)
These courses are taught by graduate faculty and involve topics-based screenings, readings, writings and creative productions.

Film 799: Independent Study (maximum of 9 credits)
There may be times when you will need to take an independent study with a professor for a special project. Seek approval from the professor and enroll with an add/drop form.

Film 900: Graduate Studio (maximum of 12 credits)
Offered once a year, Film 900 Graduate Studio is an ongoing critique of individual studio research in any media. Emphasis is on developing and maintaining an interdisciplinary dialogue and approach to personal artistic practice. Studio research, individual, and group critiques are required. Like graduate seminar, graduate studio centers on critique and contemporary art practice. It often features visits and presentations by national and international artists, curators and critics. Graduate studio differs from graduate seminar in that it is open to graduate students from other departments in the Peck School and encourages students to collaborate with each other and to experiment with artistic disciplines other than screen-based media.

Department of film electives (maximum of 30 credits)
These are U/G and G classes in film, video & new genres that are regularly offered by the department, including topics such as 16mm film and video production, screenwriting, lighting, cinematography, audio production, animation, installation, and performance.

Complementary studies (maximum of 12 credits)
A complementary studies course is a U or U/G course offered outside the film department that is relevant to a student’s proposed course of study. In the past, students have taken complementary studies credits in creative writing, theory, music, art history, anthropology, architecture, etc. Students interested in complementary studies are encouraged to discuss their options with the director of the graduate program in film and the graduate faculty before enrolling in these courses.

Progress Through the Media

Major Thesis Advisor / Graduate Review / Mid-semester Critique

During the first year, each student chooses a major thesis advisor from the department’s graduate faculty to advise and supervise the student’s studies. At the end of the second semester (and every semester thereafter), students present their current projects to a selected graduate review committee. This committee includes the student’s major thesis advisor and at least two additional members of the graduate faculty. Additionally, we encourage students to seek professional relationships with faculty in departments outside of film who can then be invited to take part in the graduate review committee.

Another formal opportunity for sharing work is mid-semester critique, held over the course of several evenings every year in mid fall and mid spring. Each graduate student has an hour to present work and get feedback from the entire graduate student body and graduate faculty. 2nd-year graduate students present during the fall semester, and 1st-year graduate students present in the spring.

MFA Film graduates and faculty at mid-semester critique, 2016 (Image: Dick Blau)

Thesis Presentation

Upon recommendation of the major thesis advisor and the graduate review committee, each student, at the end of the 2nd year, is required to present work as part of a thesis exhibition program at the Union Cinema. This exhibition is typically near the latter part of May.


Graduate students must receive a B or better in all courses in order to receive credit towards the MFA. It is recommended that MFA candidates complete their course work and thesis in two years, enrolling in 12 credits per semester. The process of graduating includes submission of a graduation application (with an application fee), overview of coursework done to ensure compliance with curriculum requirements, and the final review and approval of the thesis by the graduate review committee and major thesis advisor. Students must inform the Graduate School of their intention to graduate no later than the second week of the semester in which they wish to graduate.

Third-year Residency

Graduates who wish to stay for a third are encouraged to apply for the third-year residency. The third-year residency affords the graduate study one more year of intensive studio work with access to the major thesis advisor, graduate review committee, equipment room and studio space. The residency has no funding per se, and students wishing to enroll for a 3rd year must pay for one credit per semester (two credits total). In the past we have been able to secure a course to teach for third-year residents, but this is not guaranteed.