First there was the documentary, then the docu-drama, then the drama-mentory, and now the documovie.
All of these are variations on real-life stories filmed with various degrees of re-enactments or narration that define a story.
But the documovie, as My Father's Gun (History Channel, June 24, 9-11 p.m.) has been dubbed, makes the personal history an art form. This movie is 100 percent point of view. And it is 100 percent riveting. Based on Brian McDonald's critically acclaimed 1999 memoir, the film tells his family's story how three generations of New York policemen dealt with the changing times and the challenges of the job.
His maternal Irish grandfather, Tom Skelly, proved himself a hero during the worst disaster in New York history before Sept. 11, 2001. He saved hundreds of lives, and the Tammany Hall officials tried to reward him with an immoral assignment. He refused and remained a traffic cop for his entire 25 years on the force.
Tom's daughter married another young policeman, Frank McDonald and became Brian's mother. Brian's brother Frankie also joined the force as soon as he was old enough. Both men are candid about mistakes they made.
Brian does reveal some family secrets that his father and brother wish he'd left out. But some of these private matters are so universal, they help give substance and humanity to the story. A girl cousin, for example, got into trouble with drugs in the 1960s, and her father, a drug-busting cop, rescued and reclaimed her with love rather than recrimination.
Throughout the film, Brian narrates, moving backward and forward in time to compare his relations' special challenges as the world changed around them. His grandfather had crooked politicians to sidestep. His father was assigned to the worst crime area in the city and couldn't transfer out because he was too good at his job. His brother faced down angry mobs during antiwar demonstrations and had to earn back his gold shield when he was busted for a mistake.
The film looks immediate and relevant to our greater understanding of the city and "the job." Brian is a terrific storyteller, and he makes us feel through archival footage, reenactments, and shots of himself at his dad's old police typewriter the courage, dedication, and intelligence of New York's finest.