Harry—never Harriet—Wootliff is tall, soft-spoken, and hesitant with her every word. Once an errant student from the North of England, Wootliff dropped out of school at 14 and was politely asked not to return. It wasn’t for lack of discipline: Wootliff was soon accepted to the Elmhurst Ballet School in Surrey before earning a place at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School to study acting. In her mid-20s, when the acting work was more trickle than flood, Wootliff started to write. She bought a book called Film Directing Shot by Shot and, like that, decided to make a film.

“When I got onto the set of Nits, I had found the place I felt happiest,” says Wootliff of her debut short. “I enjoyed acting because I wanted to tell stories; I wanted to create a world, but I realized I didn’t want to be in that world.” Written and directed by Wootliff, Nits, nominated for a BAFTA award, was one of 10 films selected from the thousands submitted for the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight. “Suddenly I was going into meetings not as an actor, but as me,” she says. “It’s really refreshing when someone is interested in what’s going on in your brain.”