Treating a sensational topic in a spare and thoughtful way, this CNN documentary takes an understated look at Steven Stanton, who lost his job as city manager of Largo, Fla., because he chose to become a woman. Stanton’s situation gained national attention, but the project goes beyond that, drawing from a frank video diary Stanton kept over a two-year period. Despite its questionable title, “Her Name Was Steven” soberly sheds light not just on Stanton’s experience but that of his wife and son, without exploiting those featured.

Stanton’s wife opted not to appear on camera but agrees to read from her own journal, at one point saying that watching her husband’s metamorphosis has been “like a slow death for me.”

While the first portion deals with Stanton’s decision and the community’s response — including footage from the hearing on whether he should retain his position, with impassioned pleas from both sides — the filmmakers continue following him as he struggles to find work and, eventually, prepares for sexual-reassignment surgery.

Produced without an anchor/host and employing natural sound, Stanton’s journal is immensely helpful in fostering understanding regarding his emotional state and sense of discovery during the process. Perhaps that’s because he’s so matter-of-fact in discussing his feelings, such as wondering what it will be like “the first time you reach down and your penis is gone.”

“Steven” (which has already played in film festivals) more closely resembles HBO documentary fare than what one normally finds on CNN. Running about 80 minutes minus commercials, it will receive multiple plays during the weekend.

Her Name Was Steven

CNN, Sat. March 13, 8 p.m.

  • Production: Produced by CNN Prods. Senior executive producer, Mark Nelson; executive producer, Bud Bultman; senior producer, Rose Arce; producer, Amanda Sealy; director, Dave Timko,
  • Crew: Executive director, Jody Gottlieb; senior editors/producers, Steve Keller, James Evans, Jack Austin; chief camera, Jeff Cook. RUNNING TIME: 120 MIN.
  • Cast: With: Steven Stanton.
  • Music By: