Published: Feb. 4, 2020 By

Howdy, partner! Welcome to Jackson Hole, China

British filmmaker Adam James Smith has memorialized the town in a documentary, Americaville, which he will screen on campus Feb. 7

North of Beijing, China, is a replica of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where Chinese citizens come to escape an increasingly uninhabitable city life and live out their dreams of freedom, romance and spiritual fulfillment.

British filmmaker Adam James Smith has memorialized the town in the documentary Americaville, which he will screen at the University of Colorado Boulder this week.

Americaville will be shown Friday, Feb. 7, at 7:30 p.m. in Muenzinger Auditorium on campus. It is free and open to the public and will be followed by a talkback featuring the filmmaker.

The screening is part of the CU Boulder International Film Series and is sponsored by the Center for Asian Studies and the Center of the American West.

Director Adam James Smith with his production assistant and sound person

Director Adam James Smith with his production assistant and sound person.

Smith recently fielded questions about the film, its genesis and the assumptions Chinese people hold about the United States and vice versa. The questions and his answers follow:

Question: Jackson Hole, China, is fascinating for many reasons; what drew you to focus your lens on this topic?

Answer: Even though I'm from the United Kingdom, China and the United States have been a big part of my life since a very young age. My father was a businessman in both countries, and when he would return from trips to China and the United States, he would talk about his experiences over the kitchen table. 

I think I internalized this as a child and from those stories, developed a deep interest in both societies. Later in life, I studied in the United States and lived on-and-off in China, where I worked as a teacher, journalist and then later as a filmmaker pursuing feature-length documentary films. After completing my first feature documentary, The Land of Many Palaces, filmed in China's infamous "ghost city" of Ordos on rural to urban migration, I wanted to look at the opposite movement of wealthy urban people looking to escape China's increasingly uninhabitable cities for rural or small-town life. I learned about Jackson Hole, China from a friend who told me about a "cowboy town" built up in the mountains, north of Beijing. 

I managed to track the town down on a Chinese search engine, decided to rent a car and attempt to find the town from the vague address listed on the developer's website. Upon finding the town and persuading the security guards to let me in for a brief time, I miraculously stumbled across the founder and figurehead of Jackson Hole who invited me to stay for two nights. 

During this short stay, I was introduced to many people living and working in the community, plus prospective buyers whom I followed around with a real estate agent. After returning to the UK, I couldn't get this place out of my head—it represented an incredible collision of American and Chinese cultures, ideology and material-culture. As I held a deep interest in both China and America, in how American values and understandings about happiness have translated to foreign countries, and the global impact and influence of Hollywood cinematic representations; creating a feature documentary about this town presented an excellent opportunity to explore all of these converging interests. 

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