Murmur. Photo: Courtesy Larsen Publicity Credit: Larsen Publicity

As noted here last week, 2021’s SF Indiefest is currently under way, with its programming available for streaming through Thursday, Feb. 21. If you haven’t already checked out the excellent Small Time, you still have another week to give it a look – but the festival has other treats available, too.

In director Heather Young’s Murmur, 50-something Canadian Donna (Shan MacDonald) is struggling to put her life in order. Recently paroled (the details of her criminal past are not revealed), Donna drinks a bit too much, vapes a bit too much, and is in need of stable employment to keep her parole officer happy.

A job opportunity arises at a local animal shelter, and Donna takes to it like the proverbial duck to water. Her love for animals trumping the job’s sometimes unpleasant aspects, Donna immediately falls for Charlie, a sickly pooch likely to be euthanized in the near future. Hoping to postpone the inevitable — and despite her supervisor’s misgivings — Donna adopts him.

Poor Charlie is a mess. His tongue hanging limply from the corner of his mouth, the filthy mutt is stricken with a serious heart condition, prone to incontinence, and bedeviled by ear mites. Donna, naturally, is not deterred.

Quite to the contrary: working each day with dozens of lost or abandoned animals, Donna begins to take in additional tenants, including a diabetic cat, a tiny dog named Bruno, a lethargic hamster and many more. Soon, Donna’s apartment is a maze of cages and filthy litter boxes ensconced upon piles of newspaper.

A newcomer to film, MacDonald is hugely impressive as the troubled but deeply compassionate parolee. Estranged from her daughter (who we neither see nor hear), the empty space in Donna’s heart is instead filled with love for her menagerie of needy creatures  — at least until Animal Control gets wind of the situation.  Murmer is a winner and MacDonald a discovery.

How to Stop a Recurring Dream. Photo: Courtesy Larsen Publicity Credit: Larsen Publicity

How to Stop a Recurring Dream is a promising if flawed first feature from writer-director Ed Morris. Set in the Surrey stockbroker belt, it’s the story of the fraught relationship between two sisters — one an adopted older teen (Bridgerton’s Ruby Barker), the other a precocious 12-year old (Lily-Rose Aslandogdu) — and their on-the-verge-of-separation parents (the excellent Miranda Nolan and Jamie Michie).

The film features some unusual and frankly improbable developments, but the cast are up to the task and Morris provides enough excitement to keep viewers tuned in for the duration. There’s also a remarkable turn by Andre Flynn as an unwelcome stranger who intrudes into the sisters’ lives: adorned in a white suit with matching trousers, Flynn could pass for a younger Klaus Kinski in Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo. Indeed, if someone ever makes a Kinski biopic (and someone really should), I recommend they give Mr. Flynn a call.

499. Photo: Courtesy Larsen Publicity Credit: Larsen Publicity

Finally, 499 is an intriguing slice of magical realism from Mexico. Eduardo San Juan plays a 16th-century conquistador who washes up on the shores of modern Mexico in 2020, 499 years after his previous visit. Confronted by the fact that ‘the natives’ now seem to be in charge — or at least, his Spanish descendants are not — our time traveler wanders the land until he ends up working as a line cook in New York. Superb cinematography by Alejandro Mejía (306 Hollywood) adds considerable value to this anti-celebration of the quincentenary of Hernán Cortés 1521 expedition to the New World.

Freelancer John Seal is Berkeleyside’s film critic. A movie connoisseur with a penchant for natty hats who lives in Oakland, John writes a weekly film recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as...