(CBS) – Roger Ebert, the legendary Chicago film critic who died in April, was honored Thursday as the Chicago International Film Festival kicked off its 49th year.

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Ebert, 70, lost his valiant seven-year battle against cancer. He was credited with popularizing movie criticism through his Chicago Sun-Times reviews and the television show he started in the 1970s with rival critic Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune.

Ebert’s widow, Chaz, said she felt her late husband’s presence. She says Ebert would have appreciated some of the films that have been released since his passing.

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“He liked sci-fi. I think he would have loved ‘Gravity,’ Sandra Bullock-George Clooney movie about outer space. Because Roger was a big fan of astronomy and cosmology,” Chaz Ebert tells CBS 2’s Pamela Jones.

Thursday night also marked the premier for the new James Gray film “The Immigrants.”

Chicago’s mayor was among the many taking part. Rahm Emanuel noted the recent boom in film production in Chicago.

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“This energy here for the film festival reflects also what’s going on in the city in the film and TV industry right now,” he said.