On the morning of the Oscar nominations, Riz Ahmed learned about the name of Pamela Ribon’s short film that has been leaving an impact on its viewers. Ribon’s film, “My Year of Dicks,” received an unexpected response from a festival credential desk worker at SXSW in Austin, Texas, prior to its premiere.
During her interaction with the worker, Ribon was asked about the name of her film, to which she responded with the title, “My Year of Dicks.” However, the worker was not taken aback and calmly responded, “Hard same.”
This year’s Oscar nominees do not have a film quite like “My Year of Dicks,” not only due to its name, which Ribon acknowledges, “is difficult on a spam filter,” but also because of its content. The film, written and created by Ribon and directed by Sara Gunnarsdóttir, presents a humorous, relatable, and poignant portrait of youth and its awkwardness. It has been nominated for the Best Animated Short Film award at the upcoming Academy Awards. Phil Lord, the creator of “Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse” and “The Lego Movie,” has praised the 26-minute film as “one of the best films of the year of any length.”
According to Ribon’s 2014 memoir, “Notes to Boys (and Other Problems I Shouldn’t Share in Public),” precisely a chapter describing Ribon, a 15-year-old in 1991, solution to losing her virginity while growing up in the Houston suburbs . It unfolds over five awkward chapters of intimate encounters with not-so-cool guys, though, as Ribon herself notes, “My Year of Dicks” isn’t so much a judgment of her less-than-ideal romantic companions as it is a narrative and an illumination of the awkward first steps into sex.
“In a playful way, but without being vulgar,” Ribon explained in a recent Zoom interview from her home in Los Angeles. “It was actually an inclusive feeling like, ‘We’ve all been through that phase in some way, haven’t we?'”
When they started, Gunnarsdóttir, an Icelandic animator who created the lively animations of ‘Diary of a Teenage Girl’, wondered if ‘Notes to Boys’ could have a bigger, simpler title. However, Ribon sensed something relational, indeed, common, in “My Year of Dicks”.
“Not everyone has sent a guy a note, but everyone has had an asshole year — academically, professionally, or romantically. It has many facets,” says Ribon. “So it was a way to get everyone involved, unfortunately. Everyone’s like, ‘We’re in the same boat.'”
‘My Year of Dicks’, which airs on Vimeo, has emerged, against all odds, as one of the most talked about films at this year’s Oscars. Not only will a lot depend on whether Ribon and Gunnarsdóttir can win on March 12, but perhaps even more anticipated will be seeing which presenter, in the most respectable of awards, will be lucky enough to pronounce the title of the film in front of an audience of millions. on live television.
“Do you think they will censor it?” Ribon wonders anxiously.
For Ribon, 47, “My Year of Dicks” is an oddly fitting accomplishment. Though her best known credits as a screenwriter are for more kid-friendly cartoons (“Moana,” “Ralph Breaks the Internet”), Ribon is, as an essayist, blogger, and podcaster, an unusually open-minded author all along. Her 2012 essay, “How I Could Easily Become the Town’s Latest Legend,” described a rather, huh, unsanitary visit to the massage parlor when she was several months pregnant.
“People were like, ‘It would never occur to me to share that story with others,'” says Ribon. “And I’m like, ‘What would you have done?’ They’re like, ‘I was never going to tell anyone for the rest of my life what just happened to me.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh!’”
“Sometimes I feel like a walking cautionary story,” Ribon says.
During her teenage years, Ribon was already conscious of the humorous and unfortunate aspects of her journey to adulthood. Although she did not keep a diary, she wrote extensively about her life, including short stories, notes to boys, and ticket stubs, which she collected over the years in a thick green pocketbook. Ribon confesses that she has always liked having an audience, even from the beginning when she was processing her thoughts about her. She prefers to write an email about her day rather than keeping it to herself, and talking to herself feels strange.
Ribon shared all of this material and more with Gunnarsdóttir, who worked with a small team of indie animators to create a rotoscoped-style animation of young Pam mixed with old photos of her from high school. Each of the five chapters has its unique animation design, including an anime segment and one styled as a vampire story. For Gunnarsdóttir, the power of animation is in its ability to take something naturalistic and add expressionism.
Gunnarsdóttir disagrees. “I believe you’re very brave, and that i believe that’s why such a lot of other people are identifying with it,” she says.
“It’s been bizarre, all the outpouring,” Ribon says. “I’ve got DMs from people that I’ve no longer spoken to since high school who’re like, ‘I simply watched this thing and I cried.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh my God, why? Why are you crying? What is wrong with you?’”
One of the film’s most embarrassing moments is a frankly explicit sexual contact from Ribon’s father. Ribon had to insist to her mother that she is exactly as she should be (Ribon’s father died years earlier). After initially shielding her mother from the film, Ribon’s mother became an avid supporter, even though she initially failed to survive the public screening of “Notes to the Boys.”
‘My Year of Dicks’ started out as a TV project for FX Networks, but the filmmakers eventually decided to try their luck on the festival circuit. Since the Walt Disney Co. owns FX, ‘My Year of Dicks’ technically, paradoxically, counts as one of Disney’s Oscar nominations, along with films like ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ and ‘Turning Red “.
As time went on, “My Year of Dicks” became more and more distant and different for Ribon. Overturning the Roe v. Wade ruling made sexual exploration far more dangerous for young women. Texas law bans abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy and makes no exceptions for rape or incest. Ribon’s film increasingly felt like a time capsule of a bygone generation.
“In today’s Texas, this is one of the most dangerous choices a woman can make about her future. These people shouldn’t be responsible for lifetime choices because of an event,” says Ribon. “At least I felt free to choose. Now, I might have been too scared to explore myself. I’m grateful for any mistakes I’ve made. I haven’t had sex in any of those situations, but it could have happened. And it could have happen with just one person who was more “fuck” than here. It’s a lot scarier to imagine.”
Alternatively, Ribon believes that animation provides “a tool to speak to any person’s heart without filters” – that even in an extremely adult animated film, you can connect once again with that phase where you engage with the more productive intentions for oneself.
“Let’s go back to the feelings of Saturday morning cartoons,” he says.
So certainly, “My Year of Dicks” might be one of the most laughable Oscar nominations this year. However, it may also be one of the more openly sincere.
“Maybe this is my way of life, of helping people realize that you’re not alone and that it could be worse. There’s something very gratifying about knowing that I officially have the worst sex talk of all time. It’s not just something I say,” Ribon says, pausing to smile. “The academy has spoken”.
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