Cannes has a mix of newcomers and veterans this year. While no first-time directors are in the main competition, some relatively young veterans are returning after a long absence and notable debut helmers can be found in other sections. Below is a selection of directors to keep an eye on:

Nabil Ayouch: The French-born director who’s of Moroccan descent had a fest-circuit hit with his second feature Ali Zoua back in 2000. Lately, he’s focused on producing for television with his last feature as director 2007’s Whatever Lola Wants. God’s Horses, Ayouch’s Un Certain Regard entry this year, is being compared to Fernando Meirelles’ 2002 breakout. “It’s the new City Of God,” says an exec. God’s Horses is inspired by the terrorist attacks of May 16th 2003 in Casablanca.

Wayne Blair: Blair’s The Sapphires had been building buzz for several months and was acquired by The Weinstein Co on the eve of this fest. One of the vanguard of Aboriginal Australian filmmakers, he has a storied background. Not only did he play professional soccer in Oz, he’s also been a TV director and a stage actor (in 2010 he starred in a Phillip Seymour Hoffman-directed stage version of True West in Sydney). His first outing as a filmmaker, 2005 short The Djarn DJarns, netted him the Crystal Bear prize in the Kinderfilmfest section of Berlin. The Sapphires is his first feature. It’s set in 1968 when a group of 4 young Aboriginal soul singers is discovered by an Irish talent scout (Chris O’Dowd) who brings them to Vietnam to entertain the troops. TWC’s David Glasser tells me “We think he’s an extremely talented directed and look forward to not only this picture with him, but hopefully others to come.”

Hot Film Titles For U.S. Buyers: Cannes 2012

Adam Leon: After Leon’s Gimme The Loot, an Un Certain Regard title, won the Grand Jury prize for Best Narrative Feature in SXSW this year, he was signed by UTA. The New Yorker’s graffiti-themed love story is his debut feature and was picked up by IFC/Sundance Selects for the US. Leon previously directed 2009 short Killer, which premiered at New Directors/New Films. Studios “are gonna fall in love with him,” I’m told.

Jay
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2 years
The hype around Gimme the Loot is an epic head scratcher. Just don't get it or see...

Thomas Vinterberg: The 43-year-old Danish director hasn’t been to Cannes since his 1998 breakout Festen took the Jury Prize that year. This year, he’s back in the game with The Hunt in competition which has been creating buzz since Berlin. Mads Mikkelsen stars as a recently divorced man forced to fight for his life and dignity when a random lie spreads like a virus through his community. Susse Wold, who stars in the film, tells me Vinterberg is very collaborative with his actors and crew, but that he also is “very daring and knows what he wants. He’s not looking for something that will sell a lot of tickets, he wants to tell a story.” I hear TrustNordisk just closed a French deal in the neighborhood of 300,000 euros – a high price in the territory for a European film.