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Oscars 2022: Highly tipped doc portrays 'First Wave' of COVID-19 crisis

Makeshift hospital rooms stretch out along the floor at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York
Makeshift hospital rooms stretch out along the floor at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York Copyright AP
Copyright AP
By Shannon McDonagh with AP
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Emmy-winning Matthew Heineman spent the first three months of the pandemic in one of New York City's most overstretched hospitals. His tale of resilience and despair is now in contention for the biggest accolade in film.


Within weeks after the first wave COVID-19 hit New York City in late winter 2020, filmmaker Matthew Heineman's cameras were rolling.

But Oscar-nominee and Emmy-winning Heineman says his latest film, 'The First Wave,' isn't focused on the pandemic.

Instead, the filmmaker said his goal was "to try to put a human face to COVID", one of 15 documentary features shortlisted for an Oscar nomination this year.

'The incredible power of the human spirit'

Heineman and his crew spent March-May 2020 in one of New York's hardest-hit hospitals, the Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens, documenting a group of doctors, nurses, patients and their families.

'The First Wave' gives considerable screen time to physician Nathalie Dougé, who said that even though the start of the film was shot nearly two years ago, very little has changed on the front lines of the COVID-19 fight.

Chris Pizzello/Invision
Matthew Heineman poses in the press room with his award for outstanding directorial achievement in documentary for "City of Ghosts" in Feb 2018Chris Pizzello/Invision

"Volumes in the hospital are pretty similar to 2020, she explains. "Yes, you're not hearing about the enormous death rates. But the volume: It's not sustainable. The hospitals are crumbling. And I think if more people are aware of what exactly happens within the hospital walls that they can see with the first wave, I think more people will stop being so indifferent and apathetic to what's going on with this pandemic – but more call to action. Figure out how we can help each other get past this."

Director Heineman concurs, believing the feature's harder to watch elements carry an overarching sense of "love and humanity".

He says he hopes viewers "come away with is just the incredible power of the human spirit when faced with great odds."

The Oscar nominations are scheduled to be announced 8 February. 'The First Wave' is currently streaming on Hulu.

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