Documenting the documentary


Robert Coles may be the closest thing to a philosopher-king we have these days, although he'd surely refuse the title.

The Harvard psychologist, whose groundbreaking work on the moral development of children during the civil rights movement earned him international acclaim, has also written about moral education, founded the Center for Documentary Studies in Chapel Hill, N.C., and edited the award-winning magazine DoubleTake.

Now he has written a book on the art - and, of course, morality - of documentary filmmaking. "Doing Documentary Work" (Oxford University Press, $24) was originally delivered as a series of lectures at the New York Public Library.

In them, Coles reflects on the balance of power between the observer and the observed, the relativity of perspective and the shifting nature of reality.

Finally, Coles puts documentary work into the context of vocation, or spiritually based service - a sobering and inspiring reminder during a movie season in which "service" isn't mentioned in the context of art as much as that of the concession stand.

Pub Date: 8/09/98

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