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10 Directors to Watch: Maya Forbes to Unleash ‘Polar Bear’ at Sundance

Comedy writer shares memories of her mixed-race childhood in 'Infinitely Polar Bear'

When Maya Forbes unveils “Infinitely Polar Bear” at Sundance next month, people may be surprised to see exec producer J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot logo at the front of her debut. The film, inspired by Forbes’ memories of being raised by a bipolar dad (Mark Ruffalo) in a mixed-race household (Zoe Saldana plays her mother), couldn’t be more different from “Cloverfield,” “Super 8” or  other Abrams projects.

“I met J.J. at the park where our kids played together, not in a professional capacity,” explains Forbes, a comedy writer who got her start in Hollywood among the Disney Fellowship program’s inaugural class. Forbes was flattered when Abrams asked what she was working on and delighted when he requested to see the script. Though she had never directed a film, Forbes had plenty of experience on-set, having worked as a writer and co-producer on “The Larry Sanders Show” and a showrunner on HBO’s “The Naked Truth.”

“Having J.J. say he believed I could do it was very helpful in getting it financed,” explains Forbes, who admits, “Even when I first said, ‘I want to direct this movie,’ I thought, ‘I hope I can do this.’ Luckily, when you say you want to direct a project, it’s not like six days later you’re on the set. You’re training all the time before you get there.”

Rather than treating the filmmaking process as therapy or a way of working through childhood issues, Forbes — who collaborates with husband Wallace Wolodarsky — wanted to share the specifics of her unique upbringing with others, the way such films as “The 400 Blows” and “Murmur of the Heart” had for her.

“When I was making ‘Infinitely Polar Bear,’ they said, ‘This counts as a diverse cast because it has minorities and women,’ and I thought, ‘Women count as minorities?’” recalls Forbes, still surprised the kinds of stories she wants to tell seem so alien to Hollywood. “I just love real drama between interesting people.”

Stats:
› Age: 45
› Home base: Los Angeles
› Agency: ICM Partners
› Manager: Brillstein Entertainment Partners
› Lawyer: Ziffren Brittenham

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