By Noelene Clark
October 26, 2015 at 12:00 PM EDT
Monica Schipper/Getty

If early buzz is any indication, this year’s Academy Awards race might feature a slate of Oscar newcomers. Four of the most talked-about films come from directors who have never been nominated for Best Picture or Director.

Peter Landesman directed Concussion, about a forensic pathologist who studies the brains of football players and challenges the NFL. Tom McCarthy helmed Spotlight, which follows the Boston Globe’s investigation of sexual abuse in the Catholic church. Lenny Abrahamson is the filmmaker behind Room, about a mother and her son, held captive in shed. And Patricia Riggen directed The 33, about the Chilean miners who were trapped underground for 69 days after a mining disaster in 2010.

At Saturday’s inaugural EW Fest in Manhattan, the directors joined EW’s own Bill Keith to discuss the sensitive issues at the heart of each of their films; the real-life stories that inspired the films in the first place; and the strenuous conditions faced by actors on set.

For The 33, cast and crew worked underground for 35 days, Riggen said. “We never saw the sun. … The cast got to experience what being a miner is — they were not in a soundstage with AC and a bathroom.”

Head here for more highlights, and hear from each of the directors in the video of the entire panel, above.