Lost world found in Catlins

Dunedin film-maker Joey Bania films inside Blair Somerville's Lost Gypsy Caravan in Papatowai. Photo by Helena de Reus.
Dunedin film-maker Joey Bania films inside Blair Somerville's Lost Gypsy Caravan in Papatowai. Photo by Helena de Reus.
Tucked away in Papatowai in the Catlins, enigmatic inventor Blair Somerville has created the ultimate tribute to DIY wizardry - a collection of interactive artworks he calls the Lost Gypsy Caravan. Dunedin film-maker Joey Bania's short film Lost and Found invites viewers down the rabbit hole to experience Blair's world in all its homemade glory. Helena de Reus talks to Bania about his film, and how he came across the Lost Gypsy Caravan.

For Dunedin film-maker Joey Bania (25), a trip to the Catlins three years ago provided the inspiration for his short film Lost and Found.

Mr Bania came across the Lost Gypsy Caravan and inventor Blair Somerville while on a road trip with friends. The creativity of Mr Somerville's designs intrigued him and Mr Bania jumped at the chance to document his treasures.

"I think back to the first time I came here and played with all of Blair's designs. There's so much joy in what he's made."

With only eight days to shoot his short film, Mr Bania stayed on site in a caravan in Papatowai.

"Blair didn't know me from a bar of soap, but he's been really accommodating. Living with him has been great to get a sense of what he is about. I've picked a very interesting character. He's a very talented guy and a nice guy - he's quintessentially Kiwi."

In an old Leyland bus, the main part of the Lost Gypsy Caravan is packed to the brim with weird and wonderful inventions.

They range from a "pleasant nose pincher" and shells that gurgle, to wind-up rope drawings and even a cycle-powered television although this is not kept inside the old bus.

"I just love this place. There are so many cool and quirky inventions."

Old posters, coins, notes, and photographs line the caravan's walls, while each shelf, bench, and ledge is crowded with carvings, figurines, with even a model train travelling around the walls.

"Blair's designs are quite complex but seem simple.

"The end result is something beautifully simple. I admire his engineering - a lot of his pieces have very natural movement."

Outside the caravan, nestled among the trees and shrubs are many sculptures. A mailbox shaped like a whale from discarded metal stands at the entrance of Mr Somerville's property, while nearby hidden in the garden is a temptation button - push it and find out what happens next.

"I like that pretty much everything is made from recycled, human-made material, or what he's found on the beach or in nature."

With no cellphone coverage and limited access to the internet, Mr Bania faced a few challenges when things went wrong.

"I'm a part of a small film-making community in Dunedin, so when I had a few technical issues I had great support from individuals and companies through the lending of gear, experience, and loads of advice."

When not filming in the middle of the Catlins, Mr Bania is home in Dunedin where he is establishing himself as a freelance film-maker.

The self-confessed "cinemaphile" experimented in making films during his last year in high school, before throwing himself into the art while studying politics and then science communication at the University of Otago.

Advances in technology of the past few years made it possible for Mr Bania to try both documentary and narrative forms of filming.

He plans to continue in a wide range of filming from music videos to documentaries.

The New Zealand Young Producer Shorts series begins on December 3 and concludes on December 6 on BBC Knowledge. Joey Bania's Lost and Found screens on December 4 at 9.35pm.