documentary hack

The First Wave

Matthew Heineman

5 mins

3 key insights

Visual, audio & text

This emotional fly-on-the-wall documentary from National Geographic follows healthcare workers as they tackle the arrival of COVID-19 in New York.


The First Wave

The First Wave

by Matthew Heineman


Nurses and doctors are trained to know what's likely to happen to their patients, depending on what's wrong with them. But what happens when a new disease with no discernible patterns emerges, which can kill people who seem to be recovering? This is the scenario that viewers are plunged into by The First Wave, which presents an inside look at the rise of COVID-19.

Taking place during New York City's first COVID-19 wave between March and June 2020, this film is the work of Matthew Heineman, who has won acclaim for his character-driven documentaries. Heineman installed himself at the integrated healthcare network Northwell Health, New York State's largest healthcare provider.

The First Wave provides an inside look at how the arrival of COVID-19 impacted one of New York City's hardest-hit hospital systems, while showing how ethnic disparity in North America became a major theme at this time.

Favorite quote

This is a character test for us individually. It's a character test for us collectively, as a society. What did you do at that moment, when all around you lost their head?

- Andrew Cuomo, 56th Governor of New York

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