It was nominated for seven Academy Awards, but came up empty on Oscar night. It was only the 51st most popular film of 1994, earning a fairly forgettable $28 million at the box office in a year dominated by "Forrest Gump," "The Lion King" and "True Lies."

And yet.

It’s hard to flip channels on a given night and not stumble upon Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) and Red Redding (Morgan Freeman) conspiring to outwit the guards and the warden in the endlessly appealing “The Shawshank Redemption.”

Based on Stephen King's novella "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption," the movie, written and directed by Frank Darabont, has become one of the most beloved films of all time. Set in Maine, it was shot in and around Mansfield, Ohio, in the summer of 1993, primarily at the Ohio State Reformatory.

This coming weekend the former prison, now a museum and tourist attraction, will host the three-day Shawshank 25th Anniversary. It kicks off Friday night with a screening of the film at the historic, 1,400-seat Renaissance Theatre in Mansfield (where the film premiered in September of 1994).

Filmmakers and performers are jetting in. Darabont will be on hand to talk with fans, along with nine cast members, including Bob Gunton (who played Warden Samuel Norton), William Sadler, Gil Bellows and Alfonso Freeman, who all played inmates. (Freeman doubled as a younger version of Red, apt casting since he is Morgan Freeman's son.)

“Let’s call it ‘Once Upon a Time in Mansfield,’ ” joked Tom Clark, who is organizing the weekend for the Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society.

“Hollywood is coming here and with good reason. The film is currently ranked as the No. 1 movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database. People from all over the world make their pilgrimage here. We've had visitors from New Zealand, Thailand, Japan. This weekend will be a ‘Shawshank’ lover’s dream."

The Friday screening will be preceded by a panel discussion featuring the visiting celebrities and hosted by Ben Mankiewicz of Turner Classic Movies. Saturday afternoon will feature a meet and greet with the director and cast members in the Central Guard Room.

“Unlike other movie gatherings where the meet-and-greets are in a convention center, here you are getting an autograph and taking a photo literally where the movie was shot,” said Clark.

There also will be a Shawshank Hustle 7K race Saturday morning and a Shawshank Reception Saturday night. On Sunday, three panel-discussion sessions will feature authors of Shawshank-related books, background actors from the area and crew members who worked on the film.

The prison, a 250,000 square-foot Victorian/Gothic monster, closed in 1990. In addition to “Shawshank,” several films, TV shows and music videos have been shot there. It hosts tours, Halloween Haunts and other events year round. For the coming weekend, the staff has spruced up five rooms, which now constitute the Shawshank Museum.

“The Shawshank Museum is five rooms in and around where Warden Norton’s office was in the film,” said Clark. "Our curator Becky McKinnell has done an amazing job. We are not only restoring the office, but the adjoining rooms are now filled with treasures from the movie."

 

Keeping hope alive

What is it about this drama that garners so much love and attention even 25 years later?

“The movie is about the power of friendship, perseverance, redemption and keeping hope alive under the most desperate of circumstances,” said Mark Dawidziak, the Cuyahoga Falls author and critic whose latest book is “The Shawshank Redemption Revealed: How One Story Keeps Hope Alive.”

“When the movie was released 25 years ago, the economy was good and things seemed pretty promising on all fronts,” said Dawidziak. “With each passing year, we've become more divided and the future seems more and more uncertain. So, on both a societal and personal level, those basic messages of the film are far more resonant now than they were in 1994.”

The official launch for his book will be on Sept. 19 at the Akron-Summit County Main Library.

As part of his research, Dawidziak spoke with Stephen King, who has seen dozens of his works adapted into films and TV movies and miniseries. King is not always pleased. He famously disliked what Stanley Kubrick did with “The Shining” in 1980.

His feelings about “Shawshank” lean the other way.

“Frank Darabont not only made one of the best movies from one of my works, he made what may stand as one of the best movies, period," King told Dawidziak. "It seems to be well on its way to classic status, and it certainly deserves it.”

On the panel with Dawidziak will be Maura Grady and Tony Magistrale, authors of “The Shawshank Experience: Tracking the History of the World’s Favorite Movie,” and Kary Oberbrunner, the man behind “Day Job to Dream Job,” a self-help book inspired by the movie and the prison.

Darabont was primarily known as a writer when he adapted and directed “Shawshank.” He would go on to interpret King again, writing and directing “The Green Mile” in 1999, and "The Mist" in 2007. Darabont also created the TV series “Mob City” and co-created the phenomenon known as “The Walking Dead.”

At the 1995 Academy Awards, for the films of 1994, “Shawshank” was in the running for best actor (Freeman), editing, sound, score, cinematography and adapted screenplay. But the Oscars went to others. For best picture, it was up against Quentin Tarantino's “Pulp Fiction,” Robert Redford's “Quiz Show,” Mike Newell's “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and Robert Zemeckis' “Forrest Gump.” Forrest ran home with the gold.

In addition to a spruced up museum and new Shawshank items in the gift shop, the Reformatory folks have also created a limited edition libation.

"We made a root beer," said Clark. "Remember the scene in the film where the inmates are drinking beer on the roof? We got permission from the Pabst Brewing Company, which owns the rights to the Stroh’s label — that was the beer in the movie, Stroh’s Bohemian Style. Their legal department granted us clearance on a label that is inspired by the label in the movie."

The name: "Shawshank Suds."

 

Clint O’Connor covers pop culture. He can be reached at 330-996-3582 or coconnor@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @ClintOMovies.