Sheehan

A scene from Samsara.

When a couple left the theatre two nights ago after seeing the wordless new documentary extravaganza, Samsara, they marvelled at the opening sequences where an aerial camera floated over a city of golden temples, hundreds of them, a landscape dense with civilisation but empty of people.

Samsara displays an array of wonders, good and bad. To shock the senses to attention it starts with this fantastic vista of golden spires stretching to the horizon, with not a soul in sight. It was this opening sequence, after 90 minutes of spectacular sequences, which the couple were talking about as they left the movie. They wanted to know where it was. They wanted to go there.

It was Bagan. When I visited Burma in 2010, Bagan was the highest point of a trip full of high points. Bagan is more spectacular than most places you will ever see, and still largely unknown. I'd never heard of it until I got there, but in the two years since my visit, Burma has gone from a travel backwater to a place where visitors are filling the scant resources of the country's tourism industry. I'm keen to return, but I'll have to plan well in advance.

The world doesn't wait. This is the theme of Samsara, which takes its name from a Sanskrit term meaning "the ever-turning wheel of life". The film took almost five years to make, across 25 countries, and is the product of 30 years of collaboration between American film-makers Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson (they co-created Chronos, 1985, and Baraka, 1992).

Samsara is their culmination, a masterpiece of meditative cinema. On the Samsara website they write: ''[We] approach non verbal film-making with an understanding that it must live up to the standard of great still photography, revealing the essence of a subject, not just its physical presence.''

They succeed. Fricke filmed every frame, then converted the 70 millimetre film to digital, which required a massive amount of digital data, which was then converted to high-definition film of extraordinary clarity.

The evolution of technology and production values is going to fill our eyes with wonder. Film is the literature of our age and we are living in a golden age. A new level of sophistication has been reached with the film adaptation of Life of Pi. Digital animation technology is impressive - it is sensational for video games - but it has never been able to break out of a soulless quality. Until now.

It seemed impossible to make a plausible film about a boy sharing a lifeboat with a wild tiger. The book Life of Pi was for the realm of the imagination. But in the hands of the Taiwanese director Ang Lee, technology has taken digital animation to a level where it can almost match reality. Almost. In some ways Lee's tiger is an improvement on reality.

Even though most contemporary movies, TV series, documentaries and reality TV are no better than what has gone before, the sheer enormity of output means riches can be mined amid the bulk, like gold seams in a mountain.

As if to underline that we are living in a golden age of film, the documentary Diana Vreeland is also screening. This little film has had legs. It's been running at the Verona in Paddington for more than two months, which says something about the number of people in Sydney who appreciate real style. Diana Vreeland is a wonder, reflecting Vreeland herself, showing her impact in the world of fashion was legendary.

Thanks to the proliferation of pay TV channels, more documentaries than ever before are being made and the sheer scale is generating quality. Pay TV has done the same for fiction. Even though pay TV offers 100 channels of recycled mediocrity, the scale of content produces gold among the dross.

In the past year, I've been able to watch six TV series I have found mesmerising to see for the first time or to revisit: Homeland, Downton Abbey, Treme, Breaking Bad, The Wire and The Sopranos. To watch six memorable TV series - 80 episodes - in one year is a rich vein of gold.

All those smartphones, high-quality video cameras, online digital editing tools, film schools and the accumulation of video literacy have created an era where most narratives are being created via the camera, not the page. It is a fascinating turn in the ever-turning wheel of culture.