Filmmaker Xan Cassavetes comes from good stock. The daughter of legendary actor/director John Cassavetes and actress Gena Rowlands had critics buzzing at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival with her first feature-length directorial effort, Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession. The film — debuting tonight at 6 and 10 pm/ET on IFC — recounts the true story of a Los Angeles pay-cable station made popular by its eclectic programming (picture commercial films like The Empire Strikes Back playing back-to-back with exploitation fare like Foxy Brown) and the tragic demise of its visionary mastermind, Jerry Harvey. Here, Ms. Cassavetes speaks with TV Guide.com about Z Channel and all things film, from Tarantino to Timberlake.
TV Guide Online: What prompted you to make a movie about an obscure cable channel?
Myself and my two producing partners were about two weeks away from shooting a film called The Sky Is Green when we found out that one of our investors had given his portion of our financing to a horror movie and neglected to tell us. It was devastating. We started talking about films that didn't fit into a genre, but were great and classic. Every movie that kept coming up, I was like, "Oh, yeah, I saw that on Z Channel." Then I was like, "Wait, what ever happened to Z Channel?" It was the sorrow of a bad experience that led us to think about an era gone by where all the kinds of things we were interested in had a real forum. They came together on the Z Channel.
TVG: Quentin Tarantino and Sideways director Alexander Payne appear in your film. Both talk about being avid Z viewers. How do you think it influenced what they do?
There aren't many repertory theaters left, so there wasn't a film culture where you could go and see two Sam Fuller movies one night and a couple of Visconti movies the next. So I think they were very much influenced by the type of films Z Channel played, because Z Channel made them accessible.
TVG: What made the Z Channel different from, say, HBO or Showtime? Cassavetes: The theme festivals, for one. For instance, they'd do a back-to-school-themed festival and have the Rodney Dangerfield movie along with a Buster Keaton movie. Next to [that, they'd run] a soft-core porn movie where a kid's going back to school and his nanny is hot. People would become exposed to a variety of different films.
TVG: Did Z Channel play your dad's movies?
They managed to sneak them in. They played a festival with Woman Under the Influence, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie and Shadows.
TVG: Well, you're in Woman Under the Influence, so that means you were actually on the Z Channel!
Hey! Oh, my god! I never thought about that. [Laughs]
TVG: You helped with your brother Nick's upcoming flick, Alpha Dog. We hear Justin Timberlake has a big part in it. How'd he do?
Justin was burning it up. He plays the friend of this wannabe drug kingpin growing up in the Valley in the '80s and he's really great in it. It's a different kind of movie, very edgy, and he pulls it off. Quote me on this: Timberlake burns it up!
TVG: Consider it done, Xan.