Zoe Saldana and Mark Ruffalo receive direction from Forbes on the set of Infinitely Polar Bear.

Filmmaking | Interviews | Massachusetts | Rhode Island

Director Maya Forbes on Infinitely Polar Bear

Maya Forbes's film Infinitely Polar Bear headlines this month's Woods Hole Film Festival.

16 Jul , 2015  

Written by Ted Ryan | Posted by:

Cambridge-born Writer/Director May Forbes’s new film Infinitely Polar Bear, starring Mark Ruffalo headlines the Woods Hole Film Festival this month. Here, she talks to fellow filmmaker Ted Ryan about shooting in New England, keeping it together on the festival circuit and staying true to your story.

Maya Forbes’s critically acclaimed debut feature Infinitely Polar Bear headlines the 24th Annual Woods Hole Film Festival on July 25. Forbes, who was born in Cambridge and educated at Harvard, will be in attendance for the screening.  The 1970s drama stars Mark Ruffalo as a manic depressive father struggling to keep his Boston family together after a nervous breakdown.

I had the pleasure of seeing Infinitely Polar Bear the night before our interview at Kendall Square. I found it to be a poignant coming-of-age tale – highlighting the harsh realities of mental illness versus the undeniable bonds of family.

Forbes is upbeat, warm, and enthusiastic. She exhibits an acute self-awareness of her work within the scope of other working independent filmmakers. Perhaps that’s because Forbes was born into an artistic family – her sister China is an accomplished musician – and she took advantage of her Ivy League education – studying drama, theatre, and playwriting.

Her path to filmmaking began when she landed an internship at Disney in Los Angeles, writing film and TV scripts among a selected group of classmates. One of her TV spec scripts caught the attention of Garry Shandling, who brought her on board to write for The Larry Sanders Show in 1992.  She was only 23.

Forbes never brought up her long list of development deals or studio screenplay assignments. Instead, she is more interested in sharing her enthusiasm, and whole-hearted advice for beginning filmmakers.

As for writing your own project, she stresses the importance of writing what you want to see – not what you think other people want to see. She credits this as the passion that made Infinitely Polar Bear a reality.  She also reminded beginning filmmakers to embrace their limitations (Forbes has been working in the industry for over 20 years, and is no idealist).

Forbes made it a priority to shoot the film in New England. She still has multiple relatives in Massachusetts and Vermont, visits the Cape every summer, and makes a yearly pilgrimage to Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Although shooting in New England, Forbes knew that the Cambridge of 1978 bears little resemblance to the Cambridge of today. However, she felt the buildings and layout of nearby Providence still carried that essential 1970s vibe. As a result, the production team moved to the Ocean State and commenced on a 28-day shoot.

Forbes had initially planned to shoot her project on Super 16 film as she felt it was evocative of the era, but the budget didn’t allow it. So she incorporated old Super 8 footage that her father shot in the ’70s and blended it seamlessly into the story. The result is a nostalgic balance of reality and fiction. The majority of the film was shot on the Alexa, the industry standard for major motion pictures.

As for making her film in Rhode Island, Forbes raved about the intimacy of her location and intimate relationship with her production team. She gave numerous shout-outs to location managers, grips, and gaffers – many whom are located and work in New England. We even shared an admiration for her Boston-based sound mixer Jason Fryberg (who had also mixed sound on my own feature). Because Infinitely Polar Bear was a passion project with a likeminded group of cast and crew, on set bonds grew strong. Forbes revealed that many cast and crew shed tears upon wrap.

When we discussed film festivals, I brought up my own anxieties. One of my short films screens at Woods Hole this summer. Forbes urged me to alleviate this anxiety by seeing as many films as possible and indulging in the festival experience.

When Infinitely Polar Bear opened at Sundance, she noted that it was, at times, a gut-wrenching experience. But, viewing other films reminded her why she wrote and directed in the first place. This attitude has paid off and has allowed Forbes to create smart, insightful, and inspired material. Infinitely Polar Bear quickly picked up distribution with Sony Pictures Classics at Sundance and is now playing in cinemas across the country.

The success of Infinitely Polar Bear has certainly opened more doors for Forbes. She and her husband are preparing to co-direct a big budget comedy with Jack Black.

Tickets are now on sale for this headline screening on July 25 at Woods Hole Film Festival. If you want to hear more anecdotes – such as Forbes casting her own daughter, or discovering she shares a distant relative with one of the crew – she will be participating in a Q&A after the film. If you want to see my short film WAR, it plays in a block of films on July 30. I’ll be in attendance as well – not quite as accomplished as Forbes – but just as grateful.

Maya Forbes was selected as one of Variety’s 10 Directors to Watch in 2013. To purchase tickets for the 2015 Woods Hole Film Festival, visit www.woodsholefilmfestival.org. You can also see the website for the film at

The RI TV/Film Office hosted a screening of Infinitely Polar Bear on July 16, attended by numerous members of the cast and crew. The film opens the 2015 Woods Hole Film Festival, and is continuing to open in theaters across the country. For more information, see http://sonyclassics.com/infinitelypolarbear/.

Writer Ted Ryan’s first feature Ocean State won the Award of Excellence at the 2012 Canadian International Film Festival. His short film WAR will screen at the 2015 Woods Hole Film Festival.