About the Film
Filmed onsite at Long Island Jewish Medical Center from March to June of 2020, this powerful and important documentary chronicles Northwell’s response to the first wave of the pandemic and spotlights the heroic work of our frontline team members and the psychological toll of COVID-19. In addition, the film underscores the inequities of care illuminated by the pandemic.
“It’s both a vital piece of historical record that bravely captures the unseen horrors of the pandemic and a generous celebration of human dignity whose existence feels miraculous.” – Tomris Laffly, Variety
“The First Wave” understands the way that individuals frequently can only process events in personal terms and amplifies that understanding in order to create a broader portrait of loss, and to create and encourage empathy to persevere in spite of it.” -Todd Gilchrist, The Wrap
“It’s also a breathtaking testament to the fight to live, the calling to heal, and the power of human connection.”-Sheri Linden, The Hollywood Reporter
Matthew Heineman is an Academy Award®-nominated and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker. The Sundance Film Festival called Heineman “one of the most talented and exciting documentary filmmakers working today”, while Anne Thompson of Indiewire wrote that Heineman is a “respected and gifted filmmaker who combines gonzo fearlessness with empathetic sensitivity.”
Jenna Millman is an Emmy Award-winning journalist and documentary filmmaker whose reporting has taken her around the world, from Yemen to Zimbabwe and into the depths of dark unmarked edit rooms from Brooklyn to Paris.
Leslie Norville is an award-winning producer whose films have screened at film festivals around the globe, including SXSW, Tribeca, Hot Docs and IDFA and on various networks including Sundance Channel, PBS, and VH1. Norville’s credits include the feature documentary A BALLERINA’S TALE about Misty Copeland, the first African American principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre.
Born and raised in the Bronx, Dr. Nathalie Dougé is a New York-based, board-certified physician in internal medicine. A first-generation Haitian American, she is the first in her family to become a physician, receiving her medical degree from the Penn State College of Medicine. During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York, she served as a hospitalist and assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center, an affiliate of Northwell Health. Nathalie currently lives in Queens, New York, and is a doting dog mom to her rescue, Mars, who she believes is one of her guardian angels in animal form.
Ahmed Ellis, a 36-year-old NYPD school safety officer and first-generation American, was born and raised in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, New York. He has been married to his wife, Alexis, for eight years and has two children, Austin (5) and Ava (2). The youngest of four, Ahmed spends much of his time with his tight-knit family, who originated from the small South American country of Guyana. Ahmed and Alexis, who works as a child life specialist within hospitals, were both considered essential workers and therefore continued to be called to work during the early days of the pandemic. After contracting COVID-19, Ahmed was hospitalized at Long Island Jewish Medical Center for two months.
Kellie Wunsch has been a registered nurse since 2009 and was part of the mobile critical care team at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. She grew up in Queens, New York, and later moved to Long Island, where she began working at LIJ and met her husband Tom. During the first wave of the pandemic, Kellie volunteered to be on the rapid response team that was dispatched throughout the hospital when patients became critically unstable. Like many healthcare workers, the pandemic took an emotional toll on Kellie. In the summer of 2020, she made the tough decision to turn in her scrubs and now works in the Bed Management Office at LIJ. Kellie cherishes every moment she gets with her husband and two young daughters. She is expecting her third child in November 2021.
Born in Davao City, Philippines, Brussels, and her family emigrated to the U.S. in 2000. She has been a licensed practical nurse since 2016 and comes from a long Filipino tradition of nursing. Most of her family, including her parents, husband, and sister, are also nurses. In the spring of 2020, Brussels worked at Northwell Health’s Stern Family Center for Rehabilitation when she—and eventually almost her entire family—contracted COVID-19. Pregnant with her second child, Brussels became gravely ill and was forced to have an emergency C-section before being put on a ventilator at Long Island Jewish Medical Center.
Karl Arabian is a former physical therapist at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens, New York. When LIJ became one of the hotspots for COVID-19 in New York City, Karl was a new physical therapist thrust into a front-line role. Over the course of the pandemic, Karl helped to guide many patients on the long road to recovery. While Ahmed Ellis was under his care, they formed a tight bond and remain friends to this day. He moonlights as a deep-sea fisherman.