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?
Xan Cassavetes: 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.
Cassavetes: 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?
Cassavetes: 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!
Cassavetes: 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?
Cassavetes: 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.