BELFAST, Maine — Although Mike Hurley is excited about screening the new documentary “All In: The Poker Movie” Thursday night at the Colonial Theatre, he hopes the after-film festivities don’t last too long.
That’s because he’s got to return to the regular Thursday night poker game he has been playing in for several years.
“Poker is an egalitarian sport,” Hurley, co-owner of the downtown movie theater, said Monday. “Anybody can do it — as long as you have the money.”
“All In: The Poker Movie,” by New York filmmaker Douglas Tirola, tells the story of the worldwide poker boom that recently has seen the game explode in popularity. Poker initially was played by con men on riverboats, but now is found everywhere from casinos to basements, from the Internet to college dormitories, according to the filmmakers. The game is now played by millions and is a nationally televised sport that is watched by millions more.
The film also looks at recent legislation which has thrown the legality of online poker into question, and features interviews with people including Matt Damon, the star of “Rounders;” historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin; musician Kenny Rogers; and many professional poker players.
Belfast is among the cities selected for a limited release of the documentary, which opened nationally in March, in part because Tirola’s family has longtime ties to Sandy Point village in Stockton Springs and they continue to have a home there. He said in a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon that when he comes to Maine for a week’s visit, he’ll see all the movies that are showing in both the Colonial Theatre and the Alamo Theatre in Bucksport. Tirola also has heard that there is a robust poker culture in Maine and the Belfast area in particular.
“I’ve not ventured into the Belfast scene yet,” he said. “Maybe this movie will get me an invitation.”
Hurley described the card game as “incredibly popular” in the Pine Tree State.
From Hollywood Casino in Bangor to the “illegal poker rooms” found all over the state, he said, people of all ages enjoy playing poker in Maine.
“It’s a big deal,” Hurley said, adding that he knows of at least four other poker “home games” in Belfast that are similar to his own. “There’s camaraderie around that. There’s friendship. Poker is the great leveler.”
Tirola said he wanted to make the documentary because he became fascinated as to why poker had its recent renaissance.
“How did this game have this big comeback, where it’s on TV every night and it’s something movie stars do in Hollywood?” he asked.
Tirola described the documentary as “fast-paced,” with many moments of both humor and suspense.
“We’ve had an overwhelmingly good response,” he said. “For anybody who makes an independent film, your ultimate dream is that your movie makes it to a place where theaters will play it.”
In addition to Belfast, the film also has opened in cities such as New York, Dallas and Chicago, and filmgoers have been largely positive — except for those who simply don’t approve of poker, or gambling, he said.
“Ultimately, it’s not the story of a deck of cards. It’s the story of the individuals in that community,” he said.
Over the course of putting the film together, he’s learned much more about poker’s place in American culture.
“It’s just this wonderful, social activity that connects you to other people,” Tirola said. “And since most people learn from their grandparents and parents, it connects you to the family history. Even if you’re playing in a well-lit basement with family photos on the wall, you definitely feel like you’re as cool as Paul Newman.”
“All In: The Poker Movie,” will be screened at 7:05 p.m. Thursday, April 19, at the Colonial Theatre in Belfast. For information, visit allinthepokermovie.com.