AFI Fest 2021- “The First Wave” Is The First Essential Pandemic Feature: Film Capsule Review

After nearly two years of wall to wall coverage of the biggest worldwide event in decades, I had grown numb and accustomed to “the new normal”. That is, until Matthew Heineman’s The First Wave woke me from my desensitized slumber.

Rather than try to cover as much of the pandemic as possible, Heineman centers solely on the medical staff and patients at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center over a four month period (March-June 2020). This narrow focus makes the audience feel as though they are by the bedside of COVID-19 patients and increases the poignancy of the documentary tenfold.

Having to be a bystander watching the destruction of nurses’ psyches as they witness the deaths of patient after patient is overwhelming and will give audiences a deeper appreciation for healthcare professionals. Overall, The First Wave is unflinching in its depiction of the early days of the pandemic and should be kept as a time capsule to teach in history classes for decades to come.

The Silver Lining

Even though the refrigerated trucks that acted as makeshift morgues received ample coverage in the news, the transfer of a body from a hospital bed to these vehicles of death as shown in The First Wave is truly an out of body experience. This two minute scene is more impactful in generating sympathy than any piece of news or John Lennon covers over the last 20 months.

The First Wave is a part of AFI Fest’s 2021 official selection. The documentary is in select theaters November 19th.


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