Actor Danny Trejo is known in the San Fernando Valley as a man always willing to lend a hand to make an appearance for a community group or make someone’s day by stopping to give an autograph and have a chat even when his days are usually going at a rapid pace with a tightly run schedule — which are most of his days.
However, on Oct. 3 a pause was taken to honor the much-loved actor with the Highland Park Independent Film Festival (HPIFF) Humanitarian Award. The grass roots nonprofit organization honored Trejo for his altruistic efforts to provide opportunities and a hand up to many.
Trejo arrived in a style that was appropriate for a man who loves cars and spends as much time as he can at Chubby's Automotive in Sylmar to work on his impressive collection. Most people buy these beauties ready-made but for Trejo, the joy is in building them.
In a caravan of classic lowriders organized by award-winning car builder and lowrider artist, Alejandro “Chino” Vega, Trejo traveled with the group from Vega’s shop in Sylmar to Highland Park in Los Angeles.
A crowd awaiting his arrival gathered under The Highland Theatres Marquee that announced that “Machete,” would be shown as part of the tribute.
They cheered as the caravan dramatically rode up on Figueroa Avenue with hydraulics pumping and one car tilted on two wheels.
Trejo arrived driving the pride and joy in his personal collection – his ’65 Buick Riviera.
Before he could open his door, cellphone cameras began to flash. He moved slowly through the crowd, stopping for requests for selfies and to pose with photos with kids.
Trejo said the award was especially meaningful for him as it was given by a community of peers -- independent filmmakers.
Trejo's most noted films were made with writer director Robert Rodriguez and producer Elizabeth Avellan who built successful careers through independent filmmaking and their own production company, Troublemaker Studios. Avellan, the producer of the films Trejo is especially noted for — among them “Machete,” “Desperado,” “Dusk till Dawn,” and “Spy Kids” — traveled from Texas to attend the event she said, “for Danny.”
It was an exciting event for the community and an inspirational shot in the arm for the HPIFF nonprofit organization, now in its sixth year of holding a community film festival at the historic Highland Theatres, one of the last remaining first run, affordable neighborhood theaters in Southern California.
HPIFF co-founder Marita De La Torre noted, “Danny Trejo is a prolific actor in both films and television and his starring roles in independent films birthed a character made famous by Danny's unique portrayal.
“This man does not know how to stop. In August, he witnessed a car colliding at an intersection with an SUV and helped extract a five-year-old trapped in a child safety seat inside the overturned SUV. This is the type of human connection Danny Trejo lives by, and why he was named as HPIFF Humanitarian Award recipient.”
There were several “moments” during the festival’s opening day celebrated with Trejo.
It was noted by those in the audience who saw “Machete” that the 2010 film is still relevant today. Human suffering at the border and conflict over a border wall has only increased.
During a Q & A session, Trejo answered questions and encouraged young actors to “do the work.” He said often people will come up to him and ask him how they can get into films and he’ll ask them if they’ve taken drama or acting classes and most often, they haven't. “I’ll invite them sometimes to come and be an extra if I’m working on something, but if they're serious, they have to put in the work.”
Perhaps the most touching moment of the evening was when Trejo’s son Gilbert came up on stage after a trailer of his upcoming film was shown that featured his father.
“I wanted him to be an actor. Who would have thought that I would raise such an incredible director? I don’t cry, but he got me to cry in this film,” Trejo laughed.
But as his son reached for the award, he told the audience, “My Dad helps so many people and is so unselfish. There is no one more deserving of a humanitarian award,” and handed it to his father. Trejo, moved by his son’s words, took a moment.
“Everything good that has happened to me has happened as a direct result of helping someone else,” Trejo said. “Everything.”