Mexico City– On the heels of its first commercial hit, “Abel,” Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna’s Canana Films is kicking its distrib wing into full throttle with a number of pickups set to make their way to theaters alongside some of the shingle’s own unique projects.

Founded in 2005 by thesps Garcia Bernal and Luna and run by producer Pablo Cruz, the shingle has been moving beyond production, focusing efforts aiming to capitalize on alternative distrib schemes, including one that keeps indie films in Mexican theaters longer.

Luna describes the slow, careful rollout for “The Milk of Sorrow,” which opened in Mexico City on Jan. 15 with just 10 prints, then expanded on Jan. 24 and finally booked independent theaters more geared to indie fare. In the end, though admissions were on the low side — 22,713 tickets in 39 cities — the pic ran until Oct. 14.

Luna attributes some of the success for the pic’s long run to inroads made in building on the framework of his and Garcia Bernal’s touring documentary festival Ambulante. Now prepping its sixth edition (kicking off in February), the fest brings selected docus to small markets, where they likely would never screen otherwise. And while “Milk of Sorrow” is not a docu, Luna notes that “Ambulante in some way (gives) us a little contact with those audiences.”

Luna says Canana is working to resolve the perception that Mexico City or cities with major festivals like Guadalajara and Morelia are the only places for cinema to find audiences in Mexico. “With Ambulante, we have been realizing how a festival can leave behind an echo, and how the public is sometimes larger than we thought,” he says. The roadshow, he adds, reminds him of his roots in traveling theater, where long-established routes kept players in contact with prospective audiences around the country.

“It’s our hope that we create a link to this (growing) public that wants to have these kinds of films in theaters,” Luna says.

Canana heavily promoted its pickups at last month’s Morelia Film Festival with banners tubthumping Camera d’Or winner “Leap Year,” creepy festival player “We Are What We Are” and Canana-produced omnibus “Revolucion,” which opened this year in Berlin. (The distrib has also picked up Mexican rights for a clutch of notable international titles including: “The White Ribbon,” “Troubled Water,” “Fish Tank” and “Lebanon.”)

“Revolucion,” featuring 10 of Mexico’s most promising directors, made its national debut on Televisa on Nov. 20, two days before its theatrical release. The unusual advance broadcast was immediately followed by a release free-for-all, with everything from VOD, Blu-ray and DVD sales to limited time availability via web portal MUBI.com to free YouTube play — timed to coincide with the nation’s 100-year anniversary of the beginning of the Mexico Revolution — the spiritual center of the project.

The unusual strategy was aimed at strengthening legal distribution channels while outflanking the black market, and has become a standard play for Canana.

The company’s efforts come at a time when the local industry is increasingly voicing its dissatisfaction over the nation’s current distribution and exhibition system.

A vast majority of screens are run by two exhibs — Cinepolis and Cinemex — whose upscale theaters are ideally suited for Hollywood blockbusters. These exhibs take in an estimated 65% of the door, as opposed to the roughly 50% cut in most Europe, and despite some recent efforts on the part of Cinepolis to hold on longer to Mexican pics, they have gained a reputation for giving most domestic fare short shrift.

Director Carlos Reygadas invites government to broaden its support of the local biz to help with distribution and exhibition, explaining that Mexico needs to have alternative venues where there is less pressure from tentpoles to push out less-commercial Mexican fare.