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LOS ANGELES — When Xan Cassavetes opens the door to her Hancock Park duplex, she looks like a sophisticated gypsy, gliding through the room barefoot, clad in a charcoal gray cashmere poncho, a turquoise bikini top and a black gauze skirt shot through with gold threads. Her jet-black hair, still wet, snakes around her alabaster neck as she winds it into a bun.
“Sorry about the mess; I’m getting ready to move,” she says, gesturing to the boxes. “But this clutter drives me crazy because I’m such a Virgo!” Opting for a neater venue, Cassavetes folds herself into a shaded Adirondack chair by her pool and pulls her knees to her chest, her pink toenails, each painted with a small rainbow, coming into view, as well as an orchid tattoo.
It’s easy to imagine Cassavetes, now 39, as a rebellious 13-year-old, grounded by her father, the late filmmaker John Cassavetes, for sneaking out to punk rock clubs. It was that punishment that led to her discovery on TV of Z Channel, the now-defunct Los Angeles-based cable station that aired cult films, which is the subject of her new documentary, “Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession,” which premieres May 9 on the Independent Film Channel. (It screened last year at both the Toronto and Cannes film festivals.)
“My dad never knew it wasn’t punishment at all because I was happy to sit in my room and discover all these amazing films,” she says, adding that her appreciation of seminal, yet little-seen works like Oliver Stone’s “Salvador” and Michael Cimino’s “Heaven’s Gate” did not inspire her to become a filmmaker. At least, not right away. Instead, she took the musical road, forming a hard-core rock band called Shrine, and then began directing her own music videos. That led to directing other bands’ videos, then on to making short films. “Z Channel” is her first feature-length film.
While she acknowledges her parents’ legacy (mom is actress Gena Rowlands, and when asked what her favorite Cassavetes film is, she lists six, then finally relents, “Just say I’m a fan.”), Cassavetes doesn’t see her current vocation as predestined.
“I never thought I would make a film about this subject. I sort of forgot about Z Channel after it went off the air in 1989, but once Jason Resnick of Focus Features made the suggestion, I became obsessed all over again. I still am. I’ll probably be this way until I’m 80, babbling about Z Channel,” she says with a low laugh.
Still, Cassavetes, like her industrious siblings, directors Nick and Zoe, has her hands in other projects as well. She just completed a screenplay called “Mexico City,” a dark romance that she hopes to make into her next film.
As Cassavetes talks about her career, a fat Persian cat winds his way around her feet, drawing attention to a Match Box car and a Barbie notebook strewn around the fire pit, evidence of her son, John, and daughter, Veronica, ages five and seven, respectively. Cassavetes is divorced from their father, Rick Ross, who produced “Z Channel.”
“You know, I’m a single mom, I have to take care of my kids, so I just take it one day at a time. I tell myself if I can wake up each day and be excited about what I’m doing, then I must be happy,” she says, winking. “But then again, maybe I’m in denial.”