Directors: Martha Shane & Ian Cheney
Submarine Entertainment / Documentary Edge Festival
“Emoji” is Japanese for “Picture Character” – so this documentary takes a occasionally probing, mostly light hearted look at the world/s of picture characters that have sprung up and seemingly threatened to take over language since emoji creator, Shigetaka Kurita set out to make “something that would make people happy”.
Even if, like me, you’re a fairweather fan of the emoji, reluctant or occasional user, chances are you’ve never thought too much about how they work and why. It’s likely it’s the same deal if you sign off any and every message with them – they’re there to use after all, what’s to wonder.
The story of the rise and rush of emoji is one of those brilliant tales where you realise that a topic can suddenly run deep, the more you think about it…
Who governs emoji? How are they made? Who decides whether a character can be created and put into circulation?
This film sets out to answer the many questions you never realised you had. In that sense it’s pure documentary gold and there is a feel-good aspect to it, for the most part.
Bafflingly the Unicode Consortium, the sort of name George Lucas might have spit-balled over a lunch, is the name of the organisation that is in place to authorise new characters. It’s a nonprofit based in Silicon Valley, with reps from all the major tech companies.
They decide on skin tones and religious iconography, on matters of sex, sexism and race. There is an emoji for bagel but not one for condom. These are real discussions that real people have about computer images designed to replace language.
Mad, possibly maddening. But it’s impossibly not to chuckle, not to be frustrated in part – and not to shake your head at the level of intensity around planning and design meetings for emoji as brand-enhancement for products and companies.
As for the humble inventor of the emoji? He was a computer programmer that invented the language on a bit of a lark some 20 years ago. He made 176 picture characters; a library, a language. There are now more than 2000 characters – with dozens being added each year, but only after a strict process of examination to authorise.
The film is kind hearted and curious. I guess like many of the emoji it investigates and or celebrates. But at 80 minutes it is probably 15-20 too long.
This year’s Documentary Edge Festival is all online – Picture Character is part of the program.