'SVLLY(wood)' to release its third issue, which tackles incarceration on film

Inspiration comes in many forms: a person, a song or even a word that has no meaning. The latter applies to local film enthusiast Rooney Elmi, who started playing around with the word “svlly” as a teenager, and eventually started a blog called Svllywood. Today, SVLLY(wood) is Elmi's multimedia experimental print and digital magazine.

“It was something that kept resonating with me and I just stuck with it,” Elmi said of the word during an interview Downtown in early April. “It wasn't until later that I was like, ‘Oh, no one knows how to pronounce this.'”

The correct pronunciation is “sully-wood,” and Elmi later realized the word was a perfect play on Hollywood, with the letters “sv” translating to “a socialist verite style of film writing.”

“SVLLY(wood) was birthed because I was very frustrated with where film criticism is at the moment,” Elmi said. “I feel as though we're in a state where the democratization of art and culture resources … has allowed much more access. … But there hasn't really been many outlets for that when it comes [time] to critique.”

“I wanted to make an archival home that's not only online, but also in print, where you can marry an intersectional glance of film through an anti-capitalist, feminist, anti-racist lens,” she continued. “And I don't feel as though that exists at the moment.”

To that end, Elmi has produced two themed issues of SVLLY(wood) — available at svllywood.com and locally at the Wexner Center bookstore — since 2016. She has plans to release the third issue, and host a launch party at 934 Gallery on May 14.

The first issue, “The Feminine Mystique Redux,” includes horror film criticism through a feminist lens, with pieces on the stigma of the “neurotic woman” in film, femininity in blaxploitation horror and more. The second issue, “Intifada,” which takes its name from the Arabic word for “uprising,” includes pieces on leftist cinema and the documentation of uprisings on film.

The forthcoming “Incarceration” issue examines the “women in prisons” sub-genre of film.

“It can be a really stifling, very sexist genre of film,” Elmi said. “It's unfortunately been riddled with the male gaze. … It's strictly for men's pleasure. What would it be [like] to have women actually making these movies and making a statement about incarceration?”

Elmi said the issue will spotlight two women filmmakers who have made those types of films: Brett Story, who directed 2016's “The Prison in Twelve Landscapes,” and Jade Jackman, who directed 2017's “Calling Home.”

SVLLY(wood) not only provides diverse content, but its editors, writers and designers include women, people of color and people from the LGBTQ community.

“I want the contributors to be people of identities that rarely are profiled in film criticism,” Elmi said. “And so I want SVLLY(wood) to be a base for them to get their first byline.”

Editorial Designer Qaman Omar was compelled to get involved with the publication after reading the first issue.

“The content is so unique,” he said. “It's a really interesting look at cinephilia from a black female perspective, which is not happening anywhere else.”

“Film is a very lofty world and Rooney's take is so disruptive,” he said. “I think it just needs time for people to catch up to it.”

SVLLY(wood) has gradually built an international audience; the magazine is carried in London, New York and Canada, where Elmi was born. Going forward, Elmi hopes to make the publication bi-annual, and secure a grant to help with expenses until the publication turns a profit.

Despite her longtime interest in film, Elmi didn't consider directing until another woman filmmaker encouraged her to do so. And that demonstrated the importance of representation in the film industry that SVLLY(wood) champions, Elmi said.

Now Elmi is pursuing her own film career. She began writing scripts as a teenager, interned at the Berlin International Film Festival and worked as the director of development at the Ohio Film Group. Now she is working on a short film and documentary on surveillance.

“I just wanted to make this DIY project about how public and private entities are storing your likeness for their own consumption and without your own knowledge,” she said. “So any time I see a surveillance camera, I literally just pull my own camera [out] and shoot.”