In Honor of Frontline Health Care Workers, National Geographic Documentary Films to Stream Critically Acclaimed Documentary THE FIRST WAVE on NatGeo.Com

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Directed by Academy Award®-Nominated and Emmy® Award-Winning Filmmaker Matthew Heineman, the Film Will Be Available on and the ABC and National Geographic TV Apps for 48 Hours, Beginning at 12:01 A.M. EST on Jan. 20, To Mark the Second Anniversary of the First Positive COVID-19 Case in the U.S.;
The Film Also Continues to Be Available to Hulu Subscribers

Event Also Marks Expansion of Impact Efforts to Honor Frontline Workers:
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WASHINGTON, January 19, 2022--(BUSINESS WIRE)--National Geographic Documentary Films announced today it will make Academy Award®-nominated filmmaker Matthew Heineman’s THE FIRST WAVE available on National Geographic Online ( without commercials and free to watch on the ABC and National Geographic TV apps in the U.S. for 48 hours, beginning at 12:01 a.m. EST on Thursday, Jan. 20 – the two-year anniversary of the first U.S. CDC laboratory-confirmed case of COVID-19 in the U.S. The full documentary will also be available on local ABC stations’ apps in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Houston, Raleigh-Durham and Fresno. The 48-hour virtual event will feature a special message from Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, addressing and thanking frontline workers and medical support staff. Additionally, there will be a Facebook Live Q&A discussion scheduled for Friday, Jan. 21 at 2 p.m. EST with executive director for Pandemic Prevention and Health Systems and Skoll Foundation’s Dr. Nancy Messonnier, film director Matthew Heineman and film participant Dr. Nathalie Dougé. THE FIRST WAVE is currently streaming on Hulu.

"THE FIRST WAVE is about many things, but, at its core, it’s about how human beings come together in the face of crisis," said director Heineman. "I hope the film serves as an homage to the brave health care workers who have risked their lives on the frontlines of this ongoing pandemic. Now, almost two years into the crisis, they deserve our gratitude and support more than ever."

"This is a film EVERY citizen of the world NEEDS to watch to understand the stress health care workers are under. COVID-19 attacks without remorse and without warning," said film participant Dr. Nathalie Dougé. "No health care worker could have been prepared for the early stages of the pandemic. Nonetheless, we endured every challenge and obstacle as best we could while working in New York in the winter and spring of 2020. However, the detrimental effects of the mental strain during that time remain. I hope people honor us by taking this opportunity to understand what we had to endure and continue to endure."

With exclusive access inside one of New York’s hardest-hit hospital systems during the first four months of the pandemic, 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. This once-in-a-century pandemic changed the very fabric of our daily lives and exposed long-standing inequities in our society. Employing his signature approach of character-driven cinema vérité, Heineman embeds with a group of doctors, nurses and patients on the frontlines as they all desperately try to navigate the crisis. With each distinct storyline serving as a microcosm through which we can view the emotional and societal impacts of the pandemic, THE FIRST WAVE is a testament to the strength of the human spirit.

In support of frontline medical professionals like those featured in the film, Participant, alongside National Geographic Documentary Films and Neon, has teamed up with national health care and pandemic response organizations #FirstRespondersFirst, the Pandemic Action Network and the American Medical Students Association on THE FIRST WAVE impact campaign. The effort will build momentum for programs and policies that support the mental health and well-being of our health care workers, who find themselves exhausted, stressed out and, in some cases, traumatized as a result of the pandemic.

Most recently, THE FIRST WAVE impact campaign partnered with the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation, which has been spearheading The Dr. Lorna Breen Healthcare Provider Protection Act. It ​aims to reduce and prevent suicide, burnout, and mental and behavioral health conditions among health care professionals. The bill passed the House of Representatives in December 2021 and is now awaiting final approval from the Senate. The foundation has been working closely with congressional sponsors to make sure this approval happens in January 2022, and once it does, it will be sent to the president’s desk for signing. For more information on how to support health care workers, visit

"THE FIRST WAVE tells the story experienced by so many of our health care workforce during the first four months and continuing for the past 20 months. We lost Lorna during the first wave of the pandemic due to the trauma she experienced on the front line," said Corey Feist, co-founder of the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation. "A huge sector of the health care workforce has now had similar experiences. As a society, we owe it to our health care workforce, who have tirelessly worked to take care of us every day and continue to put themselves in harm’s way, to watch this movie to understand what they have been through and how critical it is for us to embrace and support them. The Dr. Lorna Breen Foundation is so grateful for the opportunity to partner with and support this critical documentary."

From National Geographic Documentary Films and Participant, the film premiered at festivals around the world before being released theatrically by NEON in November 2021. Critics have praised the film as a "courageous and astonishing cinematic time capsule" (Variety), "a moving, intelligent, deeply human documentary on the pandemic" (The New York Times), and "a powerful testimony and an unflinching remembrance of lives lost, the selfless commitment of healthcare professionals and the search for hope in a time of despair" (Screen International). The film has garnered multiple awards, most notably the David Carr Award, which honors a film exemplifying a commitment to "truth-telling in reporting," the International Documentary Association’s prestigious Pare Lorentz Award, and a nomination for Best Documentary Feature by The Producers Guild of America. The film was also recently shortlisted for an Academy Award (

THE FIRST WAVE is produced by Jenna Millman and Leslie Norville. It is executive produced by Jeff Skoll, Diane Weyermann, Carolyn Bernstein, Ryan Harrington, Maiken Baird, Alex Gibney, Leah Natasha Thomas, David Fialkow, Pagan Harleman and Joedan Okun.

National Geographic Documentary Films previously released the Academy Award, BAFTA and seven-time Emmy Award-winning film FREE SOLO and the Academy Award-nominated film THE CAVE. Other critically acclaimed films under the banner include E. Chai Vasarheyli and Jimmy Chin’s THE RESCUE, Liz Garbus’ BECOMING COUSTEAU, and Ron Howard’s REBUILDING PARADISE; Sundance Audience Award winners SCIENCE FAIR and SEA OF SHADOWS; 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.

About National Geographic Documentary Films

National Geographic Documentary Films is committed to bringing the world premium, feature documentaries that cover timely, provocative and globally relevant stories from the very best documentary filmmakers in the world. National Geographic Documentary Films is a division of National Geographic Partners, a joint venture between Disney and the National Geographic Society. 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 or, or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.


Founded by Chairman Jeff Skoll and under the leadership of CEO David Linde, Participant ( 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 21 wins, including Best Picture for Spotlight and Green Book; Best Documentary Feature for An Inconvenient Truth, CITIZENFOUR, The Cove and American Factory; and Best Foreign Language Film for Roma and A Fantastic Woman. Participant also has earned 44 Emmy® Award nominations and 11 wins, including two wins for the groundbreaking When They See Us. Follow Participant on Twitter (@Participant) and on Facebook and Instagram.

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