Sally Potter's new feature Rage, which had its world premiere in competition at Berlin this week, has a cast to make distributors sit up and take notice. Actors involved in the ensemble comedy-thriller include Judi Dench, Jude Law, Steve Buscemi, supermodel Lily Cole and comedian Eddie Izzard.

The film, a murder mystery, is set against the backcloth of the New York fashion industry. 'Although that is the setting, this is not what the film is about. And nor do you ever see New York or the fashion industry,' says the UK director, whose credits include Orlando, The Tango Lesson and The Man Who Cried.

The characters include a young boy who is working on a school project on his cellphone. The adults are giving him interviews as 'a favour to a kid'. Over time, Potter explains, this favour becomes a need. 'The surface of things is stripped away and each of these 14 characters over seven days unravels in front of our eyes.'

Rage was shot at breakneck speed. Potter had only two days with each of the actors. 'It was a matter of how deep we could go in that very intense working process with each character. Each actor is extremely exposed. It was an amazingly intense experience.'

Funding for Rage came from US independent financier Bob Heistand (who takes an executive producer credit) and the UK Film Council's New Cinema Fund. Sales are being handled by Cinetic Media in New York and Spain's 6 Sales. Despite the marquee names, the total budget was less than $1m.

Dench plays an acid-tongued critic. Law is 'a celebrity supermodel of the female variety ... I think Jude Law's beauty has almost been held against him as an actor. This was a very interesting way of working with that,' Potter explains. Buscemi plays a shell-shocked war photographer. Izzard is a mogul.

'It's a no-waste production. I saw it as a celebration of 'poor' cinema,' Potter explains, 'something that goes back to the elements of storytelling on film.'

The film was shot in New York and London. Potter relished working with both US and British actors on such a freewheeling project: 'These individuals were hand-picked. They were not doing it for the money but for the joy of the rigours of the most demanding kind of exposed performance. This was no frills film-making. Everyone carried their own bags. They were lucky if they had a make-up artist. For many, it was a return to what had first attracted them to the art of performance.' The film was digitally shot, hand-held, with Potter herself operating the camera.

Rage marks Potter's return to film-making for the first time since Yes in 2004 and a brief sabbatical directing a production of Carmen for the English National Opera. She admits she is glad to be back behind the camera.

'I prefer working on film. Working for such a limited audience with a text I couldn't change wasn't my best way of working.'