Matthew Heineman Goes Inside Hard-Hit NYC Hospital for Pandemic Doc ‘The First Wave’: First Look

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Chris Lindahl
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National Geographic Documentary Films and Neon have revealed the first details of “The First Wave,” a COVID-19 documentary from “Cartel Land” Oscar nominee Matthew Heineman. Below find a teaser for the film, which was shot with exclusive access inside one of New York City’s hardest-hit hospitals during the pandemic’s early days.

Neon will release the film in theaters later this year domestically ahead of a broadcast premiere on National Geographic in 172 countries.

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“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,” Heineman said. “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.”

Heineman was embedded with a group of healthcare workers at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens from March to June of last year. Using his character-driven vérité approach, the filmmaker illustrates the emotional and psychological toll on the medical workers, the struggle of patients fighting for their lives, and the inequities of race and class illuminated by the pandemic, according to the distributors.

The film was produced by Participant and Heineman’s Our Time Projects. Executive producers include Alex Gibney.

“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,” said Diane Weyermann, chief content officer for Participant.

Gibney discussed the importance of working on this project in an interview with IndieWire’s Anne Thompson last fall.

Heineman earned an Oscar nomination and two Emmys for his 2015 U.S.-Mexico drug-trade documentary “Cartel Land.” More recently his “The Boy from Medellín” was acquired by Amazon ahead of its Toronto premiere last fall. He shared directing duties with Matthew Hamachek on the two-part Tiger Woods HBO docuseries “Tiger,” which was released in January.

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