Jan 27, 2010 at 12:00 am

Hoop Dreams started the trend but the documentary Spellbound really opened the floodgates for films about rarefied competition and the personalities behind them. Whether it's Scrabble (Word Wars), barbershop quartets (American Harmony), Donkey Kong (The King of Kong) or ballroom dancing (Mad Hot Ballroom), the formula has proven to be a safe bet for pleasing audiences.

What makes Bruce Broder's engaging Chops stand out from the crowd is its focus on and obvious love for the process of making jazz. Following a high school class of musicians from Jacksonville, Fla., as they practice and eventually compete in Lincoln Center's 2007 Essentially Ellington Competition, Broder skips the typical highly personal underdog profiles and nail-biting twists in the contest to instead examine the collaborative process of building a top-notch ensemble. Sure, it culminates in a bravura showdown of talent but, by taking the audience through the rehearsal process and demonstrating how this dedicated bunch of kids learns to push against the edges of their talents, Chops spotlights the creative soul of expression instead of the ego-inflation of winners over losers. And, smartly, former Michiganian Broder lets the teens' performance at the festival stand as its own triumph, bringing down the house with a truly memorable version of Ellington's "Black and Tan Fantasy."

There will be a special showing of Chops at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 28, at the Main Art Theatre, 118 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-263-2111. It's a fundraiser for Upland Hills School. For information on tickets call 248-693-2878 or e-mail [email protected].

Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].