There are six American films in competition and many of these films take place in the South-aaincluding his film Mud, a tear-jerking drama set around the Mississippi River.
There's also Lee Daniels' The Paperboy, which takes places in 1970s small-town Florida and its steamy gator-infested swamps. John Hillcoat's Lawless is a Prohibition-era drama that takes place in bootlegging Franklin County, Virginia.
Beyond the main competition, the film Beasts of the Southern Wild is earning raves with its depiction of a fictional area on the very southern edge of Louisiana called "The Bathtub."
"It's cool," says Nichols. "Southerners are good story tellers. It's a very specific culture and voice."
Nichols, born in Little Rock, stood on stage with the co-stars in his film -- including Reese Witherspoon (raised in Tennessee) and Matthew McConaughey (the Texas-born actor stars in both Mud and Paperboy).
Nichols set his film on one of the most celebrated bodies of water in the world, the Mississippi River, and happily admits to borrowing from one of the great authors who depicted it-aaMark Twain
"If you're going to steal stuff from someone, it might as well be someone really intelligent," said Nichols. "I stole things from Mark Twain."
But part of Nichols' film-aaand personal fears-aais that this Southern world he depicts is disappearing.
"I felt it was important to capture something that might be dying," he said, choking up. "That's sad."
"The South is a precious place," he said. "And it's easy for it to get lost. And if I was trying to say anything it's that the South is fleeting. But even saying that you always seem to find that at the end, it re-emerges."
"Every time I go down these back roads and find these people and these places, there is always a story," he added. " It's hilarious. Or it's heartbreaking."