Oscars: ‘My Year of Dicks’ Creator on Teen Sexual Awakening Short Film

Roughly five minutes into the presentation of the nominees for the 95th Academy Awards, Riz Ahmed announced the category for animated short film. When he read the fourth nominee, its title was so unexpected — “My Year of Dicks” — that Ahmed and co-presenter Allison Williams had to pause their presentation as the audience at the Academy’s headquarters in Beverly Hills worked through their giggles.

Elsewhere in Los Angeles, Pamela Ribon, the film’s creator and writer — who based the short on her memoir “Notes to Boys (and Other Things I Shouldn’t Share in Public)” — was celebrating the nomination with her mother, husband and child. By that point, “My Year of Dicks” had played at several film festivals, including its premiere at SXSW, and Ribon had grown to enjoy the effect her film’s title has had on unsuspecting audiences.

“I enjoy this collection of people I admire saying ‘My Year of Dicks’ and then giggling,” Ribon tells Variety. “It was a special treat, for sure.”

“My Year of Dicks” details the journey of a 15-year-old Texas girl in 1991 to lose her virginity, through the prism of five guys — the “dicks” of the title, in both senses of the word — who make that experience filled with exquisitely awkward adolescent torment. Ribon, a writer who’s worked in animation (“Ralph Breaks the Internet,” “Moana”) and live-action (“Samantha Who?”), collaborated with Icelandic filmmaker Sara Gunnarsdóttir (“The Diary of a Teenage Girl”) to bring her somewhat fictionalized experiences to life in animation. Largely over Zoom, Gunnarsdóttir and Ribon shot live actors performing the script as reference for the animators, who then loosely rotoscoped their artwork overtop, creating the film’s fanciful, kaleidoscopic vision of a teenage girl’s inner life.

Originally, the 25-minute short was meant to be a part of FXX’s animation anthology series “Cake,” but the network allowed Gunnarsdóttir and Ribon to take it to film festivals instead. “My Year of Dicks” has been available to watch on Vimeo for the past three weeks, and since Ahmed announced its nomination, the film has already accrued more than 14,000 views — a fact that Ribon was still wrapping her head around when she spoke with Variety

“It really does feel like some young version of me is sitting here for all of this,” she said. “There’s stuff I wrote in here when I was 15! Isn’t that insane?!”

My Year of Dicks

First of all, congratulations! How are you feeling?

Thank you. It is definitely like Christmas morning. You know what I mean? Where you’re just like, “Santa came!”

Did you watch the nominations live?

Absolutely, yes, I very much did. My mom watched them with me. My cousins Zoomed in. My sister was on the phone, and my kid was next to me. My husband was beside me. It was a real family affair, which made it all the more special. We’re in all different time zones, too, ’cause Sara’s in Iceland. So she had to wait all day. I just had to wake up. It was harder for her, I think.

How did this go from being a project for FXX and its “Cake” show to being its own thing?

They were very supportive of us taking it on a festival run from the beginning. I don’t think this is a story you get to see very often, particularly in adult animation. I think animation is not a genre, it’s a tool. It can be inviting for people who might have thought adult animation wasn’t made for them. This is pretty inclusive. That is a long answer to say they’ve just been very supportive from the beginning to see where it could go and they believed in it.

The film is loosely based on your memoir. How closely were Pam’s experiences in it to your own?

Well, I will say that, that is footage of me from high school. That’s what my house looked like. My cousin plays my dad, because he’s the spitting image. My friends that I came up in comedy with in Austin play a lot of the adults and some of the Dicks. It’s 30 years in the making. There’s so much in it that is real. It’s emotionally very close to the truth.

There’s a scene in which Pam has a pretty horrifying conversation with her father about sex. Was that something that was drawn from life?

Yeah. I shortened it for the film. But yeah, it’s pretty accurate. I know where I was sitting on my skateboard when it happens. You don’t forget something like that easily. My dad did write it in a short story he wrote [for] a nighttime class he was doing when I was in high school still. He said that the teacher said, “This was supposed to be nonfiction.” And he said, “No, no, this happened. This is what I said to my daughter recently.” Someone in the classroom said, “May I please be the first to volunteer to pay for your daughter’s therapy someday?” 

So I felt like it was open season on the story, if he could share it with a room of peers. I used to do it a little bit in a one person show in Austin back when I was first doing comedy. What was interesting about the sex talk story was watching it change over the years from a story where people were kind of laughing at me to feeling with me. I felt that audience shift over 20 years of comedy, of not having to be the butt of a joke, to tell what happened to you, or having to even share all the trauma for it to be valid. 

I just— yeah, I cannot— I’m still very new to the overwhelmingness of this, as you can see!

I was going to say, a lot more people are now going to see this film and know that story because of this nomination.

Yeah, my mom would like me to point out it’s a work of fiction completely. She would like none of this to be true — from start to finish. But she is very proud of the whole story getting to where it is. That she came over this morning to watch the nominations, it’s really special. If my dad were alive, he would be pretty jealous right now. And he’d definitely have some notes.

Two of the films that you’ve worked on in feature animation were nominated for an Oscar: “Ralph Breaks the Internet” and “Moana.” Did you did you go to the ceremony for those movies?

No, this will be my first time. The only other time I’ve even come close was getting to see Oprah do the interviews the next day, the first time she was at the Kodak. I don’t even remember who won that year, because I just stared at Oprah the whole time. This is equally exciting! I’m Oprah adjacent again. It’s all I ever do it for.

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