PARIS, DEC. 17 -- Dramatic film taken inside a Soviet labor camp by French television has given the West its first authorized glimpse into the Gulag penal system.
Haggard old men with shaven heads sit hunched over metal bowls of thin fish soup in a section of the footage taken by the Antenne-2 team during a guided tour of the camp two weeks ago.
The film was to be televised in France this evening.
"That old man was spooning out all the fish bones. I think if he had spoken he would have called it bone soup," cameraman Jean-Jacques Le Garrec said during a screening at the network's Paris headquarters.
Antenne-2's human rights program "Resistances" got unexpected authorization earlier this month to film inside the camp, near Ryazan about 125 miles southeast of Moscow, from the Soviet Novosti news agency.
The prison director, who accompanied the film crew, set two conditions: no interviews with the inmates and no encounters with psychotics or mentally-ill detainees.
"Whether this meant dissidents or political prisoners is impossible to say," Le Garrec added. The crew was refused permission to film inside a Soviet mental hospital.
Le Garrec's film shows the all-male camp population of 400 eating, working and sleeping.
A thin scattering of snow lay on the ground as a column of inmates, dressed against the cold in dark grey padded cotton jackets and fur hats, lined up outside the prison mess with what looked like a trusty, wearing an arm-band, in charge.
Few looked directly into the camera, but one smiled and another gave a quick wave of his hand.
Uniformed guards in overcoats watched as they took off their hats, but not their coats, to sit at wooden tables where the fish soup and a simple noodle dish were ladled out of large pots into the metal bowls.
The camp holds prisoners sentenced to between one and 13 years, Soviet officials told the French team. The prison was chosen by the Soviet authorities and Le Garrec said he assumed it was "cleaned up" for presentation.