Robin Hawkins stands onstage at The Ashland.
Robin Hawkins introduces her film, "Summer of Sorrow," to a sold-out crowd at The Ashland on Aug. 5, 2023.

ASHLAND — Robin Hawkins felt the excitement of being in a movie theater on Saturday night. 

But for her, it wasn’t just the excitement of seeing a film. Hawkins’ film, “Summer of Sorrow,” sold out The Ashland.

“It’s surreal,” Hawkins said. 

The film focuses on Priar Road in Mansfield. The area, known to many as “Little Kentucky,” went through a period of tragedy during the summer of 1949. Nine babies died that summer, including Hawkins’ uncle.

Hawkins believes the cause was a lack of proper water and sewer facilities in the area. 

She said the story was an important one to tell, both for her family and for the others who lost children during that summer. Many remain in Mansfield and the surrounding areas, according to Hawkins. That’s why it was important to her that the film premiered locally, too. 

“I’m honored to be premiering it here,” Hawkins said on opening night.  

The locally-made film attracted actors and their families, friends and family of Hawkins’ and community members. Its premiere on Saturday night and its Aug. 6 showing both sold out. The Aug. 12 showing has a limited number of tickets remaining. 

It’s only the second time The Ashland has been sold out since its opening night in May. Sunday’s showing will be the third.

“Summer of Sorrow” merchandise was sold at the film’s premiere on Aug. 5, 2023. T-shirts for Robin Hawkins’ podcast, Watered-Down Women, was also on sale Saturday night.

People hugged each other in The Ashland’s lobby, bought merchandise and took photos before taking their seats.

Carla Blackwell, of Mansfield, came to see the film. She grew up with Hawkins, attending school with her from their elementary years all the way through high school. 

“It’s pretty cool,” Blackwell said.

She added it had been a long time since she’d set foot in The Ashland, and was excited to see both the film and the updates to the theater. 

For Ed Houston, who played the coroner in “Summer of Sorrow,” the film’s local premiere meant he could bring his whole family to see his performance. His son’s family, wife, stepdaughter and mother-in-law all came to watch.

“I’m amazed that both shows are sold out,” Houston said. “It’s really a tribute to Robin [Hawkins].” 

Chris Skinner, executive director of The Ashland, was excited at how well things went on opening night. 

Skinner said The Ashland’s independence means it can serve Ashland and its surrounding areas, like Richland County.

“I thought they’d want to see Robin’s [Hawkins’] film,” Skinner said. 

The Ashland had a full house on Aug. 5, 2023, for the premiere of the locally-made film “Summer of Sorrow.”

Movie theater employees acted like a well-oiled machine on “Summer of Sorrow’s” opening night, distributing popcorn, checking tickets and showing people to their seats for the premiere. 

Skinner was excited at how well things went. They only “held” the film for five minutes, meaning everyone was in their seats and ready for the movie to start by 6:35 p.m. 

“I’d take this over Broadway any day,” Skinner told his team after the lights dimmed.

He said it was nice to see the community supporting both the theater and Hawkins’ film. 

“It’s more about Robin and the movie,” Skinner said. “I’m glad to see the house full, but it’s really about her.” 

Hawkins offered opening comments for the crowd before the movie started, telling them how the film had been a grassroots effort since the first day. She thanked the cast and crew, who all volunteered their time on the film, along with the people of Little Kentucky. 

“I’m thankful for the families who allowed us to pull back the curtain and share their stories,” Hawkins said.

Ashland Source's Report for America corps member. She covers education and workforce development, among other things, for Ashland Source. Thomas comes to Ashland Source from Montana, where she graduated...