March 15-30, 2020

Picture Character

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The rapid rise of emoji (Japanese for “picture character”) is a global phenomenon without precedent. Their widespread use and ability to convey complex messages have not only cemented emoji’s place as an emerging digital language , but prompted difficult questions about the creation of a language and digital communication’s fraught ties to identity and inclusion. In Picture Character, Directors Martha Shane and Ian Cheney lead viewers on a deep dive into the ever evolving world of picture characters, from their humble beginnings in Japan to mobile keyboards the world over, and shed fresh light on the private consortium that approves new emoji offerings and the individuals fighting ✊ to make the language more representative of its billions of users.

Filmmaker Biography

Martha Shane is an Emmy award winning documentary filmmaker. Her directorial debut After Tiller premiered in the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and won the Emmy for Best Documentary. In 2019, her film Picture Character, a feature-length documentary about emoji, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. Martha produced and co-wrote the award-winning documentary From This Day Forward, which was theatrically released by Argot Pictures and broadcast on the PBS documentary series POV, and she produced and co-directed the feature documentary Bi the Way, which had its premiere at the SXSW Film Festival and was broadcast on MTV’s LOGO channel. In addition to directing and producing, Martha is an editor whose recent credits include 11/8/16 (The Orchard, Netflix, 2017), ACORN and the Firestorm (Independent Lens, 2018), and Personal Statement (AFI Docs, PBS World Channel, 2018). She has taught at New York’s UnionDocs and spoken alongside her films at numerous colleges and universities. Martha studied film at Wesleyan University, where she graduated in 2005.

Ian Cheney is an Emmy-nominated and Peabody Award-winning documentary filmmaker. Picture Character is his eighth feature-length documentary, and his past films – including King Corn (2007), The Greening of Southie (2008), Truck Farm (2010), The City Dark (2011), The Search for General Tso (2014), Bluespace (2015), The Smog of the Sea (2016) The Most Unknown (2018) and Thirteen Ways (2019) – have premiered at film festivals & theaters worldwide and been released on Netflix, PBS, The Sundance Channel, VICE Media and other networks. A former Knight Science Journalism fellow at MIT, he has also produced short films for the New York Times, the Guardian and the Atlantic. Since 2015 he has been an adjunct professor at Yale.


  • a/perture cinema, Winston-Salem, NC. Sunday 3/15/2020
  • The Capitol Arts Center, Bowling Green, KY. Tuesday 3/17/2020
  • Broward College, Davie, FL. Thursday 3/26/2020
  • South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, Cutler Bay, FL. Friday 3/27/2020
  • Tropic Cinema, Key West, FL. Sunday 3/29/2020
  • Allied Arts, Milledgeville, GA. Monday 3/30/2020