Wearing his trademark Wrangler blue jeans every day, Warren Haack has guided the School of Cinema from the era of photo-optical celluloid film to the digital age. In his 34 years as facilities manager, he has earned a reputation as a colorful, film-loving technician fully dedicated to the students.
“I’ve always called the students my clients,” he says. “They have such incredible energy. The films they make, the ideas they have keep me alive.”
Haack will soon leave his clients, however. He retires from SF State on June 30. But first, the School of Cinema will honor him at the annual Film Finals on May 24.
Professor Steven Kovacs has known Haack for 26 years.
“He is an extraordinary individual, a man of many interests — the wilderness, music, railroads, Cuba,” Kovacs says. “He has a deep sense of fairness and justice. It is a blessing to have him as a colleague.”
Haack’s duties involve equipment maintenance and repair and making decisions on equipment purchases. He is a one-man shop, in high demand by students with technical support needs.
“I used to get a lot of enjoyment hands on, by fixing things,” he says, glancing at his Macintosh monitor propped up by five film reels. “Now it’s just computer grief.”
Students cherish his curmudgeonly sense of humor and love for film — he is always eager to chat with them about their projects. They have even made two films about Haack, including a short that served as the theme for last year’s Animation Finals event.
Luis Baltazar (B.A., ’11) made the biographical documentary Warren in 2010. He describes Haack as easy going, careful, knowledgeable and “the nicest man.”
“When I made the film, everyone was so happy. Everybody had something nice to say about him,” Baltazar says. “I followed this guy everywhere. If you study Cinema at SF State, you’re gonna deal with him at some point. He’s always there for you.”
“Warren’s great passion and dedication has been to the students. He loves working with them, he loves helping them,” Kovacs says. “He never loses his cool. His dedication to the department has been unwavering. He has always sought to get us the very best that we can afford. He is a true gem.”
Beginning as an undergraduate in the mid-1960, Haack’s time on campus spans five decades (save for eight years as an editor and sound designer for Harcourt Brace Films). Both his grandmother and mother also graduated from SF State, in 1907 and 1958, respectively. President Frederic Burk taught all seven students in his grandmother’s graduating class.
Haack’s Master’s thesis, Selective Service System, is a documentary portraying, in raw and graphic detail, his roommate’s desperate attempt to dodge the Vietnam draft. Amos Vogel, in his book Film as a Subversive Art, calls Selective Service System “one of the most shocking documentary films ever made.” The 13-minute film won first prize in the documentary categories at the 1970 National Student Film Festival, 1970 Foothill Film Festival and 1971 Ann Arbor Film Festival. The film’s audio and visual masters are archived at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Recent films include a series of documentaries on the Western Pacific Railroad, an exploration of Cuban culture titled Santiago es Santiago and a short narrative, Dead in the Sierra/Muerto en la Sierra, about Gold Rush bandit Joaquin Murieta. Haack is also a folk and bluegrass musician.
After retirement you might run into Haack backpacking in the Sierras, visiting Cuba for another documentary or near his home on the San Mateo County Coastside. He’ll probably be wearing Wranglers, and either a baseball cap or straw hat.
SF State and its core mission will remain in Haack’s thoughts as he travels.
“I’ve always believed we can improve society by educating the populace,” he says. “The pay is not great but it has perks — to do work that will benefit society.”
Photo by Gino de Grandis