Write what you know, is the classic advice given to feature film writers. So where does that leave a documentary-maker, still stunned by the horrors of civil war in Kosovo, who wants to make his first feature in the UK'

Filming the award-winning documentary The Valley in Kosovo at the end of the 1990s had a big impact on producer-writer-director Dan Reed. "It exposed me to how a society looks when it's fallen apart and when the state no longer has a monopoly on violence," he says. "You don't have recourse to any protection except what you and your friends can devise for yourselves. For me that's a nightmare situation."

That nightmare has partially inspired Reed's debut feature, Straightheads. Three years after beginning the Kosovo documentary, he started dreaming again at night and one vivid dream combined a collision with a deer with an attempted rape that he had witnessed. Similar events kick off Straightheads' violent drama about the dangers of revenge.

The production, starring Gillian Anderson as a woman seeking bloody justice after she is raped, sees the former X Files star involved in gruesome acts. "It's extraordinarily brave for a mainstream icon like that to go out on a limb with really quite an extreme film," says Reed. "I really love Gillian for that, for her balls."

Reed is an established TV documentary maker and former Screen International Star of Tomorrow, who began his career working with Power Of Nightmares director Adam Curtis in 1992. It has taken him almost eight years to get the $3.6m (£1.85m) Straightheads to the screen.

The project was first developed with the UK Film Council and Robin Gutch, who was then at FilmFour Lab. Reed's script survived the reincarnation of Film4 and by 2003, The UK Film Council's former New Cinema Fund head Paul Trijbits suggested Damian Jones as a producer, with Kevin Loader also coming on board at a later stage.

Verve Pictures' support also helped Reed's project make it through development. The distributor boarded at an early stage and is releasing Straightheads on 200 prints in the UK. "Julia Short and Verve have been my biggest pillar of strength; they immediately introduced the notion of an audience. That grounded it in a way that I could relate to," he says.

The casting of Anderson seven months before filming began in November 2005 created global interest in the film. "It had always been going places but that's what lit the blue touch paper, when Gillian said yes," explains Reed. Sales company Lumina Films has since sold the majority of worldwide rights (including North America) to Sony Pictures. "Both Verve and Sony know this is going to make a lot of money on DVD," Reed predicts.

Reed is now working on two new feature scripts - although he is keeping details under wraps. One he describes as in similar territory and budget range to Straightheads, and the other "a much bigger genre movie, an action thriller, with a few nasty shocks."

Director/screenplay: Dan Reed
Production companies/backers: Free Range Films, DJ Films, UK Film Council, Film4, Ingenious Film Partners, Screen West Midlands
UK distribution: Verve Pictures
UK release date: April 27