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Nat Geo Sets NYC COVID-19 Documentary ‘The First Wave’ From Matthew Heineman

Film set inside Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens will be released theatrically by Neon later this year

Nat Geo has acquired the rights to “The First Wave,” a documentary about the fight against COVID-19 inside a New York City hospital, from “Cartel Land” director Matthew Heineman.

National Geographic Documentary Films is partnering with Neon, Participant and Our Time Projects on the release. Neon will release “The First Wave” to theaters later this year, prior to its premiere on National Geographic in 172 countries and 43 languages worldwide.

Heineman’s film is set inside Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens, one of the hardest hit hospitals in all of New York City. The film takes a cinema vérité, character-driven look at the “first wave” of the virus’ effect on the city during the first few harrowing months, with Heineman embedding himself among healthcare workers from March-June 2020.

With “The First Wave,” Heineman hoped to capture the unseen reality of a hospital overwhelmed by the pandemic, as well as the emotional and psychological toll placed on the medical professionals, the patients fighting for their lives and the families caught up in the pandemic. Heineman ends up weaving multiple storylines that reveal the layers and complexities of how the virus impacted people of different races and classes throughout the country and its effects both inside and outside the hospital.

Heineman directed and produced the film along with Jenna Millman and Leslie Norville. The executive producers are Participant’s Jeff Skoll and Diane Weyermann, Alex Gibney, Leah Natasha Thomas, Maiken Baird, David Fialkow, Pagan Harleman and Joedan Okun. For National Geographic Documentary Films, executive producers are Carolyn Bernstein and Ryan Harrington.

“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,” Carolyn Bernstein, executive vice president of Global Scripted Content and Documentary Films for National Geographic, said in a statement.

“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.”

“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,” Diane Weyermann, chief content officer for Participant, added in a statement. “We are thrilled to partner again with the teams at National Geographic and Neon in getting this extraordinary film to audiences around the world.”

Heineman is an Academy Award nominee and Emmy winner for “Cartel Land,” and was also behind the documentary “City of Ghosts” and the drama “A Private War.”

Heineman is represented 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 and legal affairs, on behalf of Participant; and Tiffany LeClere, senior vice president of business and legal affairs, on behalf of National Geographic Partners.

See a teaser trailer for “The First Wave” here and above.