New Canaan Country School 2012 Alumni Award recipient, Academy Award®-nominated and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Matthew Heineman ’98 directed, produced, shot and edited The First Wave, a feature documentary film with exclusive access inside one of New York City’s hardest-hit hospital systems during the harrowing first four months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Employing Heineman’s signature approach of character-driven cinéma vérité, he and his team (which includes Production Manager Charlotte Zonis ’12 ) embeds with a group of doctors, nurses and patients on the frontlines as they face one of the greatest threats the world has ever encountered. With each of their distinct storylines serving as a microcosm through which we can view the emotional and societal impacts of the pandemic, The First Wave
is ultimately a testament to the strength of the human spirit. Neon will release the film in theaters Nov. 19 ahead of a broadcast premiere on National Geographic in 172 countries.
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.”
Most recently, Heineman directed Amazon’s The Boy From Medellín, an astonishingly intimate portrait of one of the biggest international music superstars of our time. The documentary follows J Balvin as he prepares for the most important concert of his career—a sold-out stadium show in his hometown of Medellín, Colombia. But as the performance draws ever closer, the streets explode with growing political unrest, forcing the Latin GRAMMY®-winning musician to wrestle with his responsibility as an artist to his country and his legions of fans around the globe. Shot entirely in the dramatic week leading up to the concert, The Boy From Medellín gives us unprecedented access to the “Prince of Reggaeton,” and provides an immersive look into one of the most pivotal and emotionally charged moments of his life. Amazon released the documentary on May 7, 2021.
Additionally, Heineman recently co-directed with Matthew Hamachek the two-part documentary Tiger, which he also executive produced. The documentary, which was released by HBO in two parts in January 2021, offers a revealing look at the rise, fall, and epic comeback of global icon Tiger Woods.
In 2019, he received a nomination for Outstanding Directorial Achievement of a First Time Feature Film Director from the Directors Guild of America for his narrative debut, A Private War—making Heineman and Martin Scorsese the only filmmakers ever nominated for both narrative and documentary DGA Awards. A Private War stars Jamie Dornan, Tom Hollander, Stanley Tucci, and Oscar-nominee Rosamund Pike as legendary war reporter Marie Colvin. The film premiered at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival before being released nationwide by Aviron Pictures. It was a New York Times Critics’ Pick, and Variety hailed the film as “Heineman’s astonishing narrative debut” and “an incredibly sophisticated, psychologically immersive film.” A Private War also earned two Golden Globe® nominations for Best Actress and Best Original Song.
Heineman directed and executive produced The Trade, a Showtime docu-series that chronicles a different topic each season, from the opioid crisis to human trafficking, through the eyes of those most affected. It was described by The Hollywood Reporter as “a thriller…like Traffic only current and real”, while the New York Times said, “Heineman has shown an uncanny ability to gain access to hard-to-reach people and places." Both seasons of the show premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and received overwhelming critical acclaim and awards recognition, including Best Episodic Series at the 2018 International Documentary Association Awards for season one and two News & Documentary Emmy Awards for season two, including Outstanding Direction for Heineman.
His documentary film City Of Ghosts, which follows a group of citizen-journalists exposing the horrors of ISIS, premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and was distributed worldwide by Amazon Studios before having its broadcast premiere on A&E. Heineman won his second Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary Award from the DGA for the film—one of only three directors to win the prestigious honor twice. City Of Ghosts also won the Courage Under Fire Award from the International Documentary Association “in recognition of conspicuous bravery in the pursuit of truth” and was listed on over 20 critics and year-end lists for Best Documentary of 2017. The film was also nominated for a BAFTA Award, PGA Award, IDA Award, and Primetime Emmy for Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking.
Cartel Land, which explores vigilantes taking on the Mexican drug cartels, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature and won three Primetime Emmy Awards, including Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking and Best Cinematography. The film premiered in the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, where Heineman won the Best Director Award and Special Jury Prize for Cinematography. Cartel Land was also awarded the Courage Under Fire Award, the DGA Award for Outstanding Achievement in Documentary, and the George Polk Award in Journalism. The film was released theatrically nationwide by The Orchard and had its broadcast premiere on A&E.
He previously co-directed and produced the feature-length, Emmy-nominated documentary ESCAPE FIRE: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare; collaborated for two years on the Emmy-nominated HBO series, The Alzheimer’s Project; and also directed and produced Our Time, his first documentary about what it's like to be young in America.
Following New Canaan Country School, Heineman attended the Brunswick School and is a 2005 graduate of Dartmouth College. He is based in New York City.