Some sources, such as lists of film credits and advertising posters, gave Jamie Uys's name as Jamie Hayes (in both roles, as director and actor of Anton Hayes' part), and also gave Wynand Uys's name as Dirkie Hayes, thus making the boy actor's name appear to be the same as the part he is acting. However, the D.V.D. re-issue gives the real names.
There is also disagreement amongst these sources about whether the English-language version appeared in 1969 or 1970. This discrepancy may possibly be due to different release dates in different English-speaking countries, although complete certainty about this does not seem to be available.
The story is about a young boy, Dirkie, who is flying with his Uncle Pete across the Kalahari Desert in a small plane, piloted by Uncle Pete, who partway into the flight has a heart attack and partially loses control of the plane. Thanks to his struggles to land safely in the desert even while suffering the heart attack, the crash is not as serious as it might have been otherwise, and, while Pete himself dies, Dirkie and his small pet dog survive, and the bulk of the story follows Dirkie's various adventures while he struggles to survive the harsh desert conditions, including an encounter with Kalahari Desert Bushmen, who give him help, but abandon him after an unfortunate misunderstanding concerning Dirkie's dog.
The story switches several times to Dirkie's father Anton Hayes (played by Jamie Uys the director himself) and follows his increasingly desperate efforts to locate his son, including having a couple of million leaflets specially printed and spread over the desert from a plane, containing instructions for Dirkie on how to survive in the desert, and assuring him that his father loves him and won't give up trying to rescue him. The film features the unusual technique of showing Anton playing the piano, then switching to Dirkie in the desert while continuing to use the piano music as background music for the following desert scenes.
Ultimately Anton travels to the Kalahari Desert himself after everything else fails to make progress. (He has had to mortgage his house to pay for the expenses of finding Dirkie after a newspaper backs out of an earlier offer to assist with expenses.) In the desert, he meets one of the Bushmen who had earlier met Dirkie, and gets information about the direction Dirkie was last seen going in, and he is finally able to find Dirkie, who looks as if he is close to death. His dog is still with him, although injured. The film ends with Dirkie (unconscious) in his father's arms, together with his little dog (still alert), both being carried back to the vehicle his father had travelled there in.
The D.V.D. re-issue states that the film is based on a true story.
Music plays a very important role in this film, especially classical piano music resulting from Dirkie's father being a concert pianist. Classical piano music is used several times in the film's soundtrack: particularly compositions by Franz Liszt and Frédéric Chopin, to the point that Liszt's Liebestraum no. 3 in A-flat major (S./G. 541, R. 211, no. 3) and Chopin's Polonaise no. 6 in A-flat major, op. 53 ("Polonaise héroïque") almost become de facto themes for the film.
Some of the climactic portions of the Liebestraum form a sweeping sonic backdrop to early scenes in the desert (before the crash landing), showing a lunch stop in the empty desert and then taking off and resuming the flight.
There is a striking and emotionally intense scene in which Dirkie's father is practising the Polonaise at home and his worry about Dirkie causes him to have a sudden emotional breakdown, in which he interrupts his playing by hitting the piano's keyboard angrily with his fists and producing loud crashing discords.
In addition, the very opening scene of the actual story (after the differing introductions to the two versions of the film) shows Dirkie and his father playing Chopsticks together on the piano as a duet.
Other than classical pieces, original music for the film was composed by Art Heatley, William Loose, and Sam Sklair. One German web site also credits Gilbert Gibson as another composer for the film. However, the D.V.D. credits only Sklair for original music.
People appear to have frequently been haunted by specific scenes for many years, although they could can't identify it. Many of those who can remember its identity cannot find it but very much want to see the film again. Certain scenes are regarded with some unease or horror, possibly even casting doubt on whether the film is suitable for children, although its overall style seems to suggest that it was conceived as a children's film.
Lost in the Desert was shot in two versions, one in Afrikaans and the other in English. The Afrikaans version appeared in 1969 under the title Dirkie, and the English version appeared in either 1969 or 1970 (possibly according to which country) under the title Dirkie Lost in the Desert, which was sometimes referred to and marketed as Lost in the Desert, which is possibly an alternative official title for the English version.
The film was released on D.V.D. in 2005 (copyright 1999), and this disc contains both versions of the film, selectable from the front menu. The English version is about 70 minutes long, and the Afrikaans version rather shorter.
Most of the scenes are exactly the same in both versions, but both contain a few scenes which are not included in the other. For example, the Afrikaans version starts with a scene showing Dirkie's father Anton Hayes, who is a concert pianist, playing Frédéric Chopin's Fantaisie-Impromptu in C-sharp minor, Op. 66 (posth.) before an audience. Instead of this, the English version substitutes some panoramic scenes from the Kalahari Desert (the setting for most of the story), with an announcer narrating a brief history of the desert. One possible reason for this difference might be that the director may have thought that an English-speaking audience might find a little introductory information about the Kalahari Desert useful, but that an Afrikaans audience might find it superfluous. The opening concert scene in the Afrikaans version adds nothing to the story beyond establishing the fact that Dirkie's father is a concert pianist.
Also, the presence or absence of music during a prominent scene early in the film differs between the two versions.
There are also a few very brief scenes, some only of seconds' duration, that are in one version of the film but not the other. However, overall the Afrikaans version is significantly shorter, thus suggesting that the English one may be more "complete".
One account of the film in discussion forums suggests that, in the 2005 re-release of the film on D.V.D., the reason for the Afrikaans version being shorter might be that the last reel of this version was lost and so the film was simply truncated on D.V.D., thus accounting for its reportedly abrupt ending.