By Diana Martinez
Actor Danny Trejo is coming to the Highland Theater on October 3 when the founders of the Highland Park Independent Film Festival will present him with their Humanitarian Award – the festival’s highest honor.
The “Night with Danny Trejo” will kick off the three-day film festival. Trejo will make a red carpet arrival at the theater at 6:30 p.m. in his classic Riviera lowrider, followed by an award ceremony inside the theater and a screening of “Machete,” Trejo’s favorite of the many films he has made during his acting career. After the film, Trejo will take questions from the audience. And then there will be an afterparty, at the Lodge Room, with recording artists recently signed to Trejo’s Music, the actor’s record label.
In a very real sense, the “Night with Danny Trejo” will be a homecoming. Trejo was born in Echo Park and knows the Northeast Los Angeles community. He drew a big crowd when he was last on Figueroa Street in Highland Park shooting the independent film, “Strike 1.” In typical form, he stopped to shake everyone’s hand and sign every autograph.
The evening will also be a rite of passage. The Humanitarian Award will be presented to Trejo by his son, the actor and producer Gilbert Trejo, representing the next generation of filmmakers.
“I am thrilled to hear that Danny is receiving this award and will actually be handed the award from his son,” said Elizabeth Avellan, the producer of “Machete” and other major films starring Trejo, including “Desperado” and “Spy Kids.” Avellan added that she and Robert Rodriguez, Trejo’s director on several films, “love Danny.”
They are certainly not alone in their feelings. Trejo is beloved by fans for playing bad guys and antiheroes and by fellow actors for his support for new artists. He is admired for the business empire he has built. In addition to Trejo’s Music, he owns Trejo’s Cantina, Trejo’s Tacos, Trejo’s Donuts and Trejo’s Cerveza.
But those who know him best know that his day job – working as a substance abuse counselor for Western Pacific MedCorp detox centers – is as close to his heart as acting.
Both jobs, he said, go hand in hand. Trejo’s acting career did not start until midlife, after a youth and young adulthood that first took him to juvenile hall and eventually to prison. Drugs and alcohol were the twin companions on his trip to nowhere – a trip that too many young people don’t escape, especially in a prison system that Trejo believes perpetuates itself by incarcerating brown and black youth.
Trejo credits his own escape to his higher power; he recently celebrated 51 years of sobriety. “Without God, I wouldn’t be here, I know that for a fact,” he says. But with God and with sobriety, he has thrived, not only at acting, but at using his fame in a way to help others.
“What this acting job did for me was give me the best platform to talk about drug abuse,” he said.
“When you talk to kids you have to get their attention, getting kids to listen can be impossible,” he added. “My message is that drugs and alcohol will ruin your life and education is the key. Anyone can deliver that same message, but they listen to the guy from ‘Spy Kids,’ the guy from ‘Machete’ and ‘Blood In, Blood Out.’ ”
He is thankful for the attention he commands. He practices what he calls an “attitude of gratitude” for the renown that allows him to reach others who struggle.
The Humanitarian Award of the 6th annual Highland Park Independent Film Festival goes to Danny Trejo for his strong faith, his art of reinvention and his ability and willingness to use film and fame as tools to help others.
Diana Martinez is a Montecito Heights resident and the owner of L.A. Media Group. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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