The $11m epic set during the French expedition to Brazil in the 16th century is being produced by France’s Pampa Films, Brazil’s Conspiracao Filmes and CD Films from Canada and marks the first TV project for Rio de Janeiro’s investment and p&a fund RioFilme.

In what is being called one of the biggest co-productions ever made in Brazil, Rouge Bresil is being put together in association with France Televisions 2, Globo Filmes and RioFilme, which is investing $500,000. Caixa Seguros and BNDS are co-financing and the project also has the support of Filme Rio, the Rio Film Commission.

The France-Brazil-Canada production stars Sweden’s Stellan Skarsgaard and Portuguese actor Joaquim de Almeida alongside Brazil’s Gisele Motta, Pietro Mario and Roberto Birindeli.

Canadian Sylvain Archambault is directing the adaptation of Jean-Christophe Rufin’s bestseller about two children brought to Brazil by the French to learn the indigenous language and act as interpreters for the colonists.

While there is cinematic potential, Rouge Bresil is primarily being configured as a TV production and will air in Brazil through TV Globo as five 40-minute episodes and go out in France, where Televisions 2 holds rights, and remaining territories as two 100-minute telefilms.

RioFilme retains feature rights and CEO Sergio Sa Leitao, who attended a press conference with Pampa founder Nicolas Traube, Conspiracao’s Ricardo Rangel and de Almeida, said the producers would take a view on its wider theatrical viability at a later stage.

“This is the biggest international co-production for TV in Brazil,” Leitao said. “We’re confident it will do well. The story is [relevant] to us… We’ve been open to investing in TV since 2009 but until now we haven’t found a good prospect. We do refundable investments and aim to at least recover the money we invest.”

Rouge Bresil is being shot in English and Portuguese and has relocated to parts of Rio after initial scenes in the old town of Paraty.

Traube explained the project had been a long time in the works. “We met with Conspiracao about a year-and-a-half ago,” he said. “We originally had a French actor and the film was delayed and he couldn’t do it. We were going to shoot in June, then we started in September… We hope the way it’s done will be something that can speak to the world. The message is don’t export your religion and your wars.”

Traube added the producers chose to shoot in English because “if you don’t do it in English, you don’t sell.”

In an interesting illustration of cultural perspective, de Almeida challenged Traube’s reference to his character as the villain of the piece. “I am not the villain of the story. We are the good guys. [My character] lives among the Indians and he’s a man who does business. For me it’s a pleasure to be back in Brazil doing film. I haven’t been here for 10 or 12 years when I played Sherlock Holmes in The Xango From Baker Street.”