Showing his cards
All In director Douglas Tirola talks poker and movies
Wed, Jun 10, 2009 (1:58 p.m.)
In poker terms, this hand is not exactly a flush. It’s an odd-matched suit featuring Doris Kearns Goodwin, Matt Damon, former Louisville basketball coach Denny Crum, NPR’s Ira Glass and onetime heavyweight boxing champ Evander Holyfield.
The film is All In, a poker documentary premiering at CineVegas. Poker stars, of course, are featured in the film—Phil Laak, Phil Hellmuth, Annie Duke and Jennifer Tilly among them—but the film’s range shows the game’s ever-broadening scope. Director Douglas Tirola fielded a few questions about the film last week:
How many subjects did you interview for the film?
About 130, I think. Even though some might be seen for just one line, we hear 100 speak in the movie.
What was the biggest challenge in the interview process?
In some cases it took time to get these guys to know this is a serious movie. Three or four questions in, they’d be asking, “What’s this for, again?” To get them to think in broad terms, too, was challenging. What’s our culture’s propensity for risk? What does it have to do to survive and thrive? The players have all, among each other, pondered these questions. But it didn’t seem as if anyone had asked them this. A lot of them agreed to do 10-15 minutes, but then we talked to them for an hour.
In the movie you ask how to explain the popularity of poker. How do you explain that, exactly?
We deal with that in a number of ways. There’s the movie Rounders, which reintroduced the game to a younger audience and made it seem cool instead of something played by geeks who couldn’t get a date. TV, with the hole camera, helped make the game appealing to a larger audience. Internet and online playing, obviously, let people learn about the game on a computer instead of a poker room. The last reason is that anyone can play it, and we bring in [Chris] Moneymaker, who is an average guy who has had a lot of success.
The game has had a roller-coaster ride of popularity over the years. Has its popularity crested again?
I don’t ever see the game receding to where it was in the 1970s and 1980s, relegated to smoky casino rooms or a VFW hall. It’s now part of the youth culture, with people growing up with it. With the televising of it, bringing characters to life and knowing the interesting cool-hip history, I think there’s an attraction to it. An actor like George Clooney, playing poker in Michael Clayton, gives it a cool appeal.
Have you ever set foot in a poker room in Las Vegas?
I’ve been in them, but I’ve never played. It’s sort of intimidating.