National Geographic Documentary Films announced today a new feature documentary from NEON, Participant and Our Time Projects, directed and produced by Academy Award® nominee and Emmy® Award winner Matthew Heineman (“Cartel Land,” “City of Ghosts”) 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 (“Taxi to the Dark Side”), 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.
“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,” said Carolyn Bernstein, executive vice president, Global Scripted Content and Documentary Films for National Geographic.
“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,” said Heineman. “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.”
“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. “We are thrilled to partner again with the teams at National Geographic and NEON in getting this extraordinary film to audiences around the world.”
National Geographic Documentary Films, NEON and Participant present an Our Time Projects Production: THE FIRST WAVE. Directed by Matthew Heineman and produced by Heineman, Jenna Millman and Leslie Norville. Executive produced by Participant Jeff Skoll and Diane Weyermann, Alex Gibney, Leah Natasha Thomas, Maiken Baird, David Fialkow and Joedan Okun. For National Geographic Documentary Films, executive producers are Carolyn Bernstein and Ryan Harrington.
Heineman is an Academy Award-nominated and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker known for his sophisticated and immersive style. Heineman recently received a nomination for Outstanding Directorial
Achievement of a First Time Feature Film Director from the Directors Guild of America for his narrative debut, “A Private War”—making Heineman and Martin Scorsese the only filmmakers ever nominated for both narrative and documentary DGA Awards. He previously directed the documentary “Cartel Land,” which was nominated for an Academy Award and won three Primetime Emmy Awards and a DGA Award; “City of Ghosts,” for which he won a DGA Award; and the docuseries “The Trade,” which was honored by the International Documentary Association as the Best Episodic Series of 2018. Heineman most recently directed and produced HBO’s “Tiger,” a two-part documentary on the legendary Tiger Woods, and the upcoming Amazon film “The Boy From Medellín,” chronicling the life of global superstar J. Balvin over a pivotal week in his life. Up next, he is set to write and direct “Paradise,” a narrative adaptation of the true events of the 2018 Paradise Fire, to be distributed by Focus Features.
National Geographic Documentary Films has previously released director Ron Howard’s REBUILDING PARADISE; the Academy Award-nominated and Emmy-winning documentary feature THE CAVE; the Academy Award-, BAFTA- and seven-time Emmy Award-winning film FREE SOLO; the Sundance Audience Award winner SCIENCE FAIR; Emmy winners LA 92 and JANE, both of which were included in the top 15 documentaries considered for an Academy Award in 2017; and Dupont Award winner HELL ON EARTH: THE FALL OF SYRIA AND THE RISE OF ISIS.
Heineman is repped by CAA, Cinetic Media, and Sloss Eckhouse Dasti Haynes LawCo. The deal was negotiated by Cinetic Media, Gabriel Brakin, chief operating officer, and Danice Woodley, senior vice president of business & legal affairs, on behalf of Participant, and Tiffany LeClere, senior vice president business and legal affairs, on behalf of National Geographic Partners.
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