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Gary Ross and The Hunger Games have parted ways.

Ross’ exit was all but confirmed last week, but he’s released a statement explaining why he decided to discontinue his work with the famous trilogy:

“Despite recent speculation in the media, and after difficult but sincere consideration, I have decided not to direct Catching Fire,” said Ross (below, right).

“As a writer and a director, I simply don’t have the time I need to write and prep the movie I would want to make because of the fixed and tight production schedule.”

NSFW Mockingjay Poster

“I loved making The Hunger Games. It was the happiest experience of my professional life. Lionsgate was supportive in a manner that few directors ever experience.”

“They empowered me to make the film I wanted to make and backed the movie in a way that requires no explanation beyond the remarkable results.”

“And contrary to what has been reported, negotiations with Lionsgate have not been problematic. They have also been very understanding of this difficult decision.”

“I also cannot say enough about the people I worked with: Producer Nina Jacobson, a great collaborator and a true friend; the brilliant Suzanne Collins, who entrusted us with her most amazing and important story; the remarkable Jennifer Lawrence whose performance exceeded my wildest expectations, and the rest of the incredible cast, whom I am proud to call my friends.”

“To the fans I want to say thank you for your support your faith, your enthusiasm and your trust. Hard as this may be to understand I am trying to keep that trust with you. Thank you all. It’s been a wonderful experience.”

The studio also released a statement addressing the news, saying, “We’re very sorry that Gary Ross has chosen not to direct Catching Fire.”

“We were really looking forward to making the movie with him. He did an incredible job on the first film and we are grateful for his work. This will not be the end of our relationship, as we consider Ross to be part of the Lionsgate family.”

Sad news, but inevitable from the sound of it. And now, the search for the new director begins. Any thoughts on who should direct Catching Fire?

[Photo: Fame/Flynet]