National Geographic Documentary Films announced today a new feature documentary from Participant and Our Time Projects, to be released theatrically by NEON later this year, directed and produced by Academy Award nominee and Emmy Award winner Matthew Heineman along with producers Jenna Millman and Leslie Norville.

  • With exclusive access into one of New York City’s hardest-hit hospitals, The First Wave spotlights the everyday heroes at the epicenter of COVID-19 as they come together to fight one of the greatest threats the world has ever encountered.
  • Executive producers include Participant’s Jeff Skoll and Diane Weyermann, Academy Award winner Alex Gibney, Leah Natasha Thomas, Maiken Baird, David Fialkow, Pagan Harleman and Joedan Okun.
  • NEON will release the film in theaters later this year prior to a broadcast premiere on National Geographic in 172 countries and 43 languages worldwide.
  • A once-in-a-century pandemic has engulfed our world, leaving in its wake a devastating trail of death and despair while also exposing long-standing fault lines in our society and changing the very fabric of our daily lives.
  • The “first wave” of COVID-19 ravaged the city of New York from March through June 2020.
  • Through Heineman’s signature approach of character-driven cinema vérité, the First Wave documents those harrowing first four months, embedding with a group of brave healthcare workers at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens as they risked their lives in the epic battle to keep the virus at bay.
  • With poignancy and intimacy, the film unflinchingly bears witness to the unseen reality of a hospital overwhelmed by COVID—the emotional and psychological toll on medical professionals, patients fighting for their lives, and their families hoping for them to come home.
  • As the COVID-19 crisis intensifies, further exposing the deep inequities of race and class throughout our nation, Heineman weaves together several distinct storylines, revealing layers of complexity both inside and outside the hospital.
  • National Geographic also shared a teaser for The First Wave:

What they’re saying:

  • Carolyn Bernstein, executive vice president, Global Scripted Content and Documentary Films for National Geographic: “As we battle through the pandemic, we hope Matt’s powerful, deeply humanistic film will serve as a historical record of our collective struggle against seemingly insurmountable odds and also provide some much-needed catharsis as we start to feel a little more hopeful about the future.”
  • Director Matthew Heineman: “I feel deeply honored that I had the opportunity to document—through our subjects over four terrifying months—the impact of this pandemic. It has forced us to question everything, the fragility of our lives, and the way we live. The film explores every aspect of the human condition—-fear and courage, death and birth, and the inescapable weight of trauma, both the kind that is deeply held and also newly experienced. I hope this film will be a testament to the power of the human spirit when faced with one of the greatest threats the world has ever encountered.”
  • Diane Weyermann, chief content officer for Participant: “Matthew Heineman and the incredible filmmaking team behind The First Wave have created a vital film of and for our time spotlighting the heroic work of frontline responders and exposing the urgent need for drastic change toward racial and health equity. We are thrilled to partner again with the teams at National Geographic and NEON in getting this extraordinary film to audiences around the world.”