Produced by Participant and Heineman’s Our Time Projects, THE FIRST WAVE Spotlights the Frontline Heroes of the Pandemic With Exclusive Access Inside One of New York’s Hardest-Hit Hospitals
NEON to Release the Film Theatrically Later This Year
(WASHINGTON, D.C. – March 29, 2021) 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 (“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 wereincluded 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.
About National Geographic Documentary Films
National Geographic Partners LLC (NGP), a joint venture between The Walt Disney Company and the National Geographic Society, is committed to bringing the world premium science, adventure and exploration content across an unrivaled portfolio of media assets. NGP combines the global National Geographic television channels (National Geographic Channel, Nat Geo WILD, Nat Geo MUNDO, Nat Geo PEOPLE) with National Geographic’s media and consumer-oriented assets, including National Geographic magazines; National Geographic studios; related digital and social media platforms; books; maps; children’s media; and ancillary activities that include travel, global experiences and events, archival sales, licensing and e-commerce businesses. Furthering knowledge and understanding of our world has been the core purpose of National Geographic for 133 years, and now we are committed to going deeper, pushing boundaries, going further for our consumers … and reaching millions of people around the world in 172 countries and 43 languages every month as we do it. NGP returns 27 percent of our proceeds to the nonprofit National Geographic Society to fund work in the areas of science, exploration, conservation and education. For more information visit natgeotv.com or nationalgeographic.com, or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.
In just four years, NEON has garnered 12 Academy Award® nominations, 5 wins, including Best Picture, and has grossed over $150M at the box office. The company continues to push boundaries and take creative risks on bold cinema such as Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite, which made history winning four Academy Awards®, becoming the first non-English-language film to claim Best Picture. The film, which also unanimously won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, has amassed over $53M at the domestic box office and broke multiple records including highest per screen average of the year and highest per screen average for a foreign language film of all time. NEON has amassed a library of over 50 films with noteworthy releases including: Tamara Kotevska and Ljubo Stefanov’s award-winning and record-breaking Honeyland, which is the first non-fiction feature to land Academy Award® nominations for Best Documentary and Best International Feature Film in the same year; Todd Douglas Miller’s Apollo 11, 2019’s highest grossing documentary with a worldwide gross of $16M; Tim Wardle’s Three Identical Strangers, winner of the Sundance Special Jury Award for Storytelling which surpassed $13M at the box office; and Craig Gillespie’s I, Tonya, which garnered multiple Academy Award® nominations, one win for Allison Janney and amassed over $30M in domestic box office.
The company has several projects in various stages of development and production, including Pablo Larraín’s Spencer starring Kristen Stewart; Ben Wheatley’s Horror Film In The Earth which recently made its World Premiere at the Sundance Film Festival; and The Painter and the Thief narrative remake. NEON continues to be an impressive force, with recent acquisitions such as: Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s Flee, executive produced by Riz Ahmed and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau; Jamila Wignot’s Ailey; R.J. Cutler’s Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry; Venice’s Grand Jury Prize Winner Michel Franco’s New Order; Gunda directed by Victor Kossakovsky and executive produced by Joaquin Phoenix; Pig, starring Nicolas Cage; Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria with Tilda Swinton; and Robert Machoian’s powerful thriller The Killing of Two Lovers. Recent releases include: Night of the Kings, Philippe Lacôte’s Ivory Coast Oscar Submission; Andrei Konchalovsky’s Dear Comrades!, Russia’s Academy Award Submission; Apollo 11: Quarantine, the new short film from director/producer Todd Douglas Miller; Francis Lee’s romantic drama Ammonite starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan; Alex’s Gibney’s documentary Totally Under Control; Brandon Cronenberg’s Possessor; Justin Simien’s Bad Hair; Max Barbakow’s sought after Palm Springs starring Andy Samberg, which NEON acquired with Hulu; Amy Seimetz’s SXSW critical sensation She Dies Tomorrow; Josephine Decker’s Shirley starring Elisabeth Moss; Matt Wolf’s highly acclaimed Sundance documentary Spaceship Earth; The Painter and the Thief directed by Benjamin Ree; and the critically acclaimed Cannes hit Portrait of a Lady on Fire, which was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Golden Globes® and Independent Spirit Awards.
After their successful collaboration on I, Tonya in January 2018, 30WEST (Dan Friedkin’s and Micah Green’s strategic venture) partnered with NEON’s Tom Quinn (Founder & CEO) and Tim League (Co-Founder) to become majority investors in the company.
Founded by Jeff Skoll and under the leadership of CEO David Linde, Participant (www.participant.com) combines the power of a good story well told with real world impact and awareness around today’s most vital issues. Through its worldwide network of traditional and digital distribution, aligned with partnerships with key non-profit and NGO organizations, Participant speaks directly to the rise of today’s “conscious consumer,” representing the well over 2 billion consumers compelled to make meaningful content a priority focus.
As an industry content leader, Participant annually produces up to six narrative feature films, six documentary films, three episodic television series, and more than 20 hours of digital short form programming. Participant’s more than 100 films have collectively earned 82 Academy Award® nominations and 19 wins, including Best Picture for Spotlight and Green Book; Best Documentary Feature for An Inconvenient Truth, The Cove, CITIZENFOUR and American Factory; and Best Foreign Language Film for Roma and A Fantastic Woman. Follow Participant on Twitter (@Participant) and on Facebook and Instagram.
About Our Time Projects
Our Time Projects is a New York-based production company founded in 2009 by Matthew Heineman, an Academy Award®-nominated and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker. 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 MEDELLIN, 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.
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