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Jeff Lipsky's 'Mad Women' explores complex familial relationships

Kelsey Lynn Stokes plays Nevada Smith, daughter of

Kelsey Lynn Stokes plays Nevada Smith, daughter of Christina Starbuck's Harper Smith, in "Mad Women," by Jeff Lipsky. Credit: Plainview Pictures

For about six hours on a Saturday morning in September, Huntington's Cinema Arts Centre served as headquarters for a bizarre political campaign by a rogue candidate named Harper Smith. With a camera looming before her, she reviewed her talking points, which included a plan to secede from the United States.

The speech played well with the crowd, but don't worry: Huntington isn't going anywhere. Smith is a fictional character, played by the actress Christina Starbuck, and her 150 supporters were merely extras. They had assembled to shoot a roughly 15-minute stump speech that would become a crucial scene in "Mad Women," the latest movie from Plainview-raised filmmaker Jeff Lipsky.

"Mad Women" follows Harper Smith as she runs for office in wealthy Iris Glen, a fictional New York suburb. The campaign isn't the only thing complicating her life. For starters, she just got out of jail for attempting to kill someone. Her husband, Richard (Reed Birney), is now heading into jail himself, for statutory rape. And most troubling, Harper is having an affair with her 24-year-old daughter, Nevada (Kelsey Lynn Stokes, a Canadian newcomer).

" 'Mad Women' is, like all of my films, a film about family," says Lipsky. "All of them involve relationships between mothers and daughters -- tenuous relationships, reunions, broken relationships, happy relationships."

"Mad Women" is the kind of challenging, highly personal film that Lipsky has been involved with -- in one form or another -- since he helped distribute John Cassavettes' "A Woman Under the Influence" in 1974. As a co-founder of October Films, Lipsky brought movies like Lars Von Trier's "Breaking the Waves," David Lynch's "Lost Highway" and Lisa Cholodenko's "High Art" to wider audiences during the 1990s. Eventually, he began making his own low-budget films. "Mad Women" is Lipsky's sixth feature, made for $120,000. In a time-honored indie-film tradition, Lipsky charged much of it to his personal credit cards.

Despite his limited funds, Lipsky has worked with a number of recognizable actors, including Jonathan Groff and Mamie Gummer. Birney, a veteran stage and television actor whose recent roles include the villain Tom Connolly on NBC's "The Blacklist" and U.S. Vice President Donald Blythe on Netflix's "House of Cards," has now made three films with Lipsky, following "Twelve Thirty" (2010) and "Molly's Theory of Relativity" (2013).

"His stuff is challenging, in that it's very dialogue-driven," Birney says. "He says that I 'get' his style. I don't know what that is, but I'm happy to get it."

WHEN | WHERE "Mad Women" opens Friday at Cinema Arts Centre, 423 Park Ave., Huntington. Filmmaker Jeff Lipsky will attend all showings Friday through Sunday. Tickets are $12. 631-423-7611;

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